Sunday, March 29, 2009

The 70th Anniversary of Marian Anderson's Easter Sunday Concert

The renowed contralto Marian Anderson (1897 - 1993) didn't intend to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Easter Sunday 1939. Her recital was scheduled to take place in the Daughters of the American Revolution's (DAR) Constitution Hall. The DAR refused to allow Anderson to perform in the concert hall because she was African American. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt heard about the incident and resigned from the DAR in protest. The First Lady wrote a formal statement regarding her resignation in her "My Day" newspaper column.

This Easter Sunday--April 12 at 2 PM--mezzo soprano Denyce Graves will appear on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for a 70th anniversary tribute to Anderson's historic concert. Joining her will be Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Washington National Opera, and the Chicago Children's Choir. Denyce Graves, a native Washingtonian, was the 1991 recipient of the Marian Anderson Award presented by Anderson herself. In 2005 she performed at the first-day-of-issue dedication of the US Postal Service's Marian Anderson stamp at DAR Headquarters in Washington, DC. DAR President General Presley Merritt Wagoner said the following in the welcoming remarks.

It is most fitting that we gather in Memorial Continental Hall at Constitution Hall, the place which historically represents a sad chapter in our country's history and in the history of DAR. We deeply regret that Marian Anderson was not given the opportunity to perform her 1939 Easter concert in Constitution Hall but recognize that in the positive sense the event was a pivotal point in the struggle for racial equality.

Ms. Anderson's legendary concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial will always be remembered as a milestone in the Civil Rights movement. The beauty of her voice, amplified by her courage and grace, brought attention to the eloquence of the many voices urging our nation to overcome prejudice and intolerance. It sparked change not only in America but also in the DAR.

I stand before you today wishing that history could be re-written, knowing that it cannot, and assuring you that DAR has learned from the past.

Anderson subsequently performed at DAR Constitution Hall in 1942 and on numerous occasions.
Big Read - D.C.'s walking tour, "New Deal Washington" will start from DAR Constitution Hall and the story of Anderson's 1939 concert. Kim Roberts has authored our Big Read - D.C. walking tours from our very first city read to explore our Big Read - D.C. books through a D.C. lens and D.C. stories. Curator Paul Gardullo, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Donna Wells, Prints and Photographs librarian for the Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University will lead a special tour of "The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise" which includes Anderson's fur coat and photos from the Lincoln Memorial concert including the photo above. These events will take place in May during the Big Read - D.C. month.

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