On Easter Sunday 75 years ago -- April 9, 1939 -- Marian Anderson gave a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for a crowd of about 75,000 who braved the cool weather, and a huge national audience listening on radio.
The African American contralto, who, Arturo Toscanini famously said, had a voice "such as one hears once in a hundred years," had been barred by segregationist policies from singing at Constitution Hall, run by the Daughters of the American Revolution. With help from the FDR Administration, Lincoln Memorial was made available to Anderson as an alternate site. History was made there.
I've been reading an account of this incident in "The Sound of Freedom," a fascinating book from 2009 by Raymond Arsenault, who states that, in the brief duration of the Easter Sunday performance, "Anderson gained a new life and identity ... [The] thirty-five minute recital placed her on a path that few public figures had ever followed. Already renowned as a singer, she was forever after an iconic symbol of racial pride and democratic promise."
Much has happened in this country in the 75 years since that day on the Mall, much good and much bad. But the legacy of Marian Anderson still endures and inspires.
It's Good Friday as I write this, so I want to share a performance (not from the Lincoln Memorial event) that is all about this day and also encapsulates the singer's gifts, her faith and the profound effect she had on those privileged to hear her.
One need not be a believer to feel the impact of this spiritual and this incomparable artist.