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Marian Anderson

Opera singer

Died when: 96 years 40 days (1153 months)
Star Sign: Pisces


Marian Anderson obtain a degree, Annie Anderson was unable to teach in Philadelphia under a law that was applied only to black teachers and not white ones. She therefore earned an income caring for small children. Marian was the eldest of the three Anderson children. Her two sisters, Alyse (1899–1965) and Ethel (1902–90), also became singers. Ethel married James DePreist and their son James Anderson DePreist was a noted conductor. Anderson's parents were both devout Christians and the whole family was active in the Union Baptist Church, which, during her youth, stood in a building constructed by the congregation in 1889 at 709 S. 12th Street in South Philadelphia. Marian's aunt Mary, her father's sister, was particularly active in the church's musical life and convinced her niece to join the junior church choir at the age of six. In that role she got to perform solos and duets, often with her aunt. Aunt Mary took Marian to concerts at local churches, the YMCA, benefit concerts, and other community music events throughout the city. Anderson credited her aunt's influence as the reason she pursued her singing career. Beginning as young as six, her aunt arranged for Marian to sing for local functions where she was often paid 25 or 50 cents for singing a few songs. As she got into her early teens, Marian began to make as much as four or five dollars for singing, a considerable sum for the early 20th century. At the age of 10, Marian joined the People's Chorus of Philadelphia under the direction of singer Emma Azalia Hackley, where she was often a soloist. When Anderson was 12, her father received a head injury while working at the Reading Terminal before Christmas 1909. Soon afterwards her father died, following heart failure. He was 45 years old. Marian and her family moved into the home of her father's parents, Benjamin and Isabella Anderson. Her grandfather had been born a slave and had been emancipated in the 1860s. He relocated to South Philadelphia, the first of his family to do so. When Anderson moved into his home, the two became very close, but he died just a year after the family moved in. Anderson attended Stanton Grammar School, graduating in 1912. Her family could not pay for any music lessons or high school. Still, Anderson continued to perform wherever she could and learn from anyone who was willing to teach her. Throughout her teenage years, she remained active in her church's musical activities, now heavily involved in the adult choir. She became a member of the Baptists' Young People's Union and the Camp Fire Girls, which provided her with some limited musical opportunities. Eventually, the People's Chorus of Philadelphia and the pastor of her church, Reverend Wesley Parks, along with other leaders of the black community, raised the money she needed to get singing lessons with Mary Saunders Patterson and to attend South Philadelphia High School, from which she graduated in 1921. After high school, Anderson applied to an all-white music school, the Philadelphia Music Academy (now University of the Arts), but was turned away because she was black. The woman working the admissions counter replied, "We don't take colored" when she tried to apply. Undaunted, Anderson pursued studies privately in her native city through the continued support of the Philadelphia black community, first with Agnes Reifsnyder, then Giuseppe Boghetti. She met Boghetti through the principal of her high school. Anderson auditioned for him by singing "Deep River"; he was immediately brought to tears. Boghetti scheduled a recital of English, Russian, Italian and German music at The Town Hall in New York City in April 1924; it took place in an almost empty hall and received poor reviews.
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