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For Thee We Sing: The Historical Implications of Marian Anderson's 1939 Easter Concert

Sonya Baker
Edge Hall Hugh Hodgson School of Music
Free Events
Guest Artists

For Thee We Sing:
The Historical Implications of Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter Concert

Sonya G. Baker
Professor of Voice
James Madison University

Welcome! I must confess that this lecture recital is an opportunity for me to celebrate one of my idols. You have probably all heard of Marian Anderson. Many of you only know of her as an African-American classical singer. Some of you connect her name to Eleanor Roosevelt and the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. Perhaps a few of you even know some of the details of the incident in 1939 which brought these names together. However, I imagine that very few of you have ever considered Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter concert as one of the rare moments in which classical singing greatly impacted American society as a while. What other classical singers have caused millions around the world to re-evaluate American patriotism and our sense of humanity? I don’t know of any. For this reason, I appear before you today to fill in some of those gaps which may be missing for you in the story of Marian Anderson and the famous concert this Black singer gave in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Thus begins a multimedia performance about Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter concert. Audiences see visual images shared from the Marian Anderson Collection, hear Anderson’s rendition of the aria she sang that day, and experience live performance of other works from Anderson’s concert including several spirituals and Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” The story is infinitely dramatic – involving issues of racism, patriotism, and the role of the arts in our society. It is also a historical moment which allows us to look at ourselves and the overall impact of the arts today; for in the end, seventy-five-thousand people gathered on the Mall in Washington D.C. to hear this famous contralto. There will be time for Q&A at the close of the program. It is time to celebrate this momentous occasion in American history.


Photo by Bob Adamek

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