The story of Marian Anderson's appearance at the Lincoln Memorial was well-known to me. It was a shameful story of how the supposedly upstanding social Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall in front of an integrated audience, so many of the more progressive members of Washington, DC, changed the venue to the Lincoln Memorial.
She has always been associated with the civil rights movement in my memory. And justly so. In 1955, she was the first African American to sign with the Metropolitan Opera.
Her talent was such that it was recognized by the members of her community who worked to help her get the private training she needed and deserved, when she was refused entrance into the music college she wanted to attend.
When she was 15 years old, Marian began voice lessons with Mary Saunders Patterson, a prominent black soprano. Shortly thereafter, the Philadelphia Choral Society held a benefit concert, providing $500 for her to study for two years with leading contralto Agnes Reifsnyder. After she graduated from high school, her principal enabled her to meet Guiseppe Boghetti, a much sought-after teacher. When he heard Marian audition, singing “Deep River,” he was moved to tears.
Rather than fight much of the racism she received, despite her enormous popularity, Marian preferred to avoid situations whenever possible. In Europe, she was welcomed into the finest hotels and restaurants, but in the U.S., she was shifted to third- or fourth-class accommodations. In the South, she often stayed with friends. Simple tasks as arranging for laundry, taking a train, or eating at a restaurant were often difficult. She would take meals in her room and traveled in drawing rooms on night trains. She said:She sang at Eisenhower's inauguration, served as a goodwill ambassador for the US State Department, and continued to advocate for racial equality. And she sang. Beautifully.
Early on, she insisted on “vertical” seating in segregated cities; meaning black audience members would be allotted seats in all parts of the auditorium. Many times, it was the first time blacks would sit in the orchestra section. By 1950, she would refuse to sing where the audience was segregated.
“If I were inclined to be combative, I suppose I might insist on making an issue of these things. But that is not my nature, and I always bear in mind that my mission is to leave behind me the kind of impression that will make it easier for those who follow.”
(source: Women in History)