Celebrating Marian Anderson’s legacy

Posted on: April 9, 2009

“On Easter Sunday, 1939, the contralto Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” writes Alex Ross in the April 13 edition of The New Yorker. “The Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to let her appear at Constitution Hall, Washington’s largest concert venue, because of the color of her skin. In response, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R., and President Roosevelt gave permission for a concert on the Mall. Seventy-five thousand people gathered to watch Anderson perform.” In marking the 70th anniversary of that occasion, Ross follows Anderson’s illustrious career and considers her legacy. “Certainly, she made it easier for the black singers who came after her, especially the women. … African-American conductors are hard to find; the most prominent is James DePreist, who happens to be Marian Anderson’s nephew. According to statistics compiled by the League of American Orchestras, only two per cent of orchestral players are black. African-American composers are scattered across college faculties, but they seldom receive high-profile premières. … William Eddins, who is the music director of the Edmonton Symphony, recently addressed the situation on his blog, Sticks and Drones. … The problem is one of perception; African-Americans think that classical music is for other people, he says, and the almost total absence of music education in public schools prevents a different story from being told.” Ross notes the interest in classical music displayed by President Obama. “A few carefully staged recitals at the White House could break the stalemate that Eddins describes.”

Posted April 9, 2009