About Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson was born February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the oldest of three daughters born to John and Anna Anderson. John was a loader at the Reading Terminal Market, while Anna had been a teacher in Virginia. Marian attended William Penn High School. When Marian was 13 years old, she joined the senior choir at church and began visiting other churches, soon becoming well-known and accepting invitations to sing. In 1919, at the age of 22, she sang at the National Baptist Convention. 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. On April 23, 1924, Marion and her new manager, William “Billy” King, took a giant step and held a concert at New York’s Town Hall. Unfortunately, it was poorly attended and critics found her voice lacking. Marian was so discouraged, she contemplated abandoning her career choice. In 1925, she entered the Lewisohn Stadium competition. She beat 300 rivals and sang in New York’s amphitheater with the Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying her.

Marian Anderson Sings at the Lincoln Memorial

On April 9, 1939, contralto Marian Anderson sang before an audience of 75,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The outdoor location was chosen because Constitution Hall, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, refused to host Anderson owing to the color of her skin.

“I could not run away from the situation. I had become, whether I liked it or not, a symbol, representing my people. I had to appear.”

Music Career

Marian Anderson was an American contralto who performed a wide range of music, from opera to spirituals. Anderson performed with renowned orchestras in major concert and recital venues throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.

My Lord, What a Morning
An Autobiography

My Lord, What a Morning is a gentle and engrossing memoir, abounding with the tender and inspiring stories of Marian Anderson’s life in her own modest words. From her humble but proud beginnings in south Philadelphia to international vocal renown, the legendary contralto writes of triumph and adversity, of being grounded in faith and surrounded by family, and of the music that shaped her career.

Anderson published My Lord, What a Morning in 1956 on the heels of her groundbreaking role as the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. In it are bittersweet reminiscences of a working-class childhood, from her first job scrubbing the neighbors’ steps to the sorrow and upheaval of her father’s untimely death. Here are the stories of a young girl with prodigious talent and her warm remembrances of the teachers, managers, friends, accompanists, and fans who worked to foster it. In addition, she provides a veritable travelogue of her concerts across the globe and rare glimpses at the personal life of a woman more concerned with family than celebrity.

With eleven photographs and a touching new foreword by Anderson’s nephew, famed conductor and poet James DePreist, this edition of My Lord, What a Morning revives the classic portrait of a musical legend who was resilient in the bullying face of bigotry and gracious in the unfaltering glow of fame.