Singer Marian Anderson Lets Her Rich Contralto Soar at Lincoln Memorial

On this day in 1939 (Easter Sunday), Marian Anderson gave a historic and highly symbolic performance outdoors before 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. She presented a varied repertoire, including “America,” Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” and a group of spirituals. Her performance was broadcast on radio nationwide.

One of the greatest classically trained singers of the 20th century and an important figure in the struggle of black Americans for racial equality, Anderson opened doors for other black artists. In January 1955, she became the first black singer to appear on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera when she sang the role of the sorceress Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in maschera.

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Nearing the twilight of her musical career, Anderson became more active in politics. She performed at an inaugural ceremony for President Eisenhower’s second term and for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. The U.S. Department of State made her a goodwill ambassador to Asia, and in 1958, she was appointed to the thirteenth session of the United Nations.

At the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, Anderson again sang at the Lincoln Memorial. The following December, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 2005, the U.S. Postal Service honored Anderson with the 28th stamp in the Black Heritage series.