Marian Anderson papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
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Overview and metadata sections
The legacy of extraordinary contralto Marian Anderson is not limited to her musical genius. She performed a repertoire that included over 200 songs and arias in German, Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, and other languages. A review of her concert in Los Angeles on 16 June 1931 suggests something of the power of her stage presence: "Even as she sings--rich, full-throated, glorious notes--you have the feeling that she is listening to voices from another world. She is vital and powerfully magnetic, yet there is an absorbed, almost-mystic look in her half-closed eyes and slow, measured motions" (Los Angeles Record, 17 June 1931). As a singer and as a symbol of progress in the advancement of civil rights in the twentieth century, Marian Anderson was perceived as larger-than-life, yet her approach to her life and career was practical and modest, with a deep understanding that nothing is accomplished without the assistance of others. Her career spanned the years from the early 1920s through the 1970s, although she formally retired from singing in 1965. Anderson's audiences in the United States would return year after year to her concerts. She was equally well received around the world, from her triumphs in the cities of Europe and South America at the height of her career in the 1930s to her tours of Asia for the United States Department of State in the 1950s. A strong believer in education as a key to racial and social equality and having a deep commitment to the well-being of children, she spent her retirement on the boards of dozens of non-profit organizations devoted to these causes.
Childhood and Education
On 27 February 1897 Marian Anderson was born at her parents' home at 1833 Webster Street in South Philadelphia. (Anderson's date of birth is from her birth certificate. On her passports and driver's license she gave her birth date as 27 February 1903.) Her father, John Berkeley Anderson--tall, good-looking, and popular--was remembered by neighbors as a fine singer. Her mother, Anna Delilah Rucker Anderson--small in stature, modest, and with a strong faith in God--had been a school teacher in her home town of Lynchburg, Virginia. Marian was born in a neighborhood that was the heart of African-American intellectual and social life in Philadelphia, and she grew up knowing many prominent families and individuals there, including Raymond Pace Alexander, J. C. Asbury, Dr. Henry Minton, Evelyn and Hobson Reynolds, Arthur Huff Fauset, Crystal Bird Fauset, and Bishop L. J. Coppin. Predominantly, it was a poor but vibrant neighborhood, home to Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants as well as African Americans moving from the rural southeastern states for job opportunities in the city. Marian played and went to school with children from varied backgrounds.
Marian Anderson was her parents' first child and was soon followed by her sister Alyse, born on 30 December 1899, and then Ethel, born on 14 January 1902. (On her certificate of graduation from elementary school Alyse's name is Alice Maud, her mother called her Maud. She used the name Alyse Anderson on her programs as a singer and actress and in her correspondence for the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund.) Both of Marian Anderson's sisters were singers, who received some training in voice and performed locally. Marian remembers her childhood as happy, filled with music at church, singing with her family at home, and the love of her mother, who by all accounts was an extraordinary woman. About five years after her mother's death on 10 January 1964, Marian Anderson jotted down some notes about her: "She was the second of the 4 children born to Robert & Ellen Rucker and she was christened Annie Delilah. It was possibly 20+ years later when I first knew this (shy) human being who was my whole world" (Notebook, ca. 1969).
Anderson's father, a teamster who worked at the Reading Terminal Market, died when Marian was about twelve years old as a result of injuries suffered in an accident. Anna D. Anderson's strength and loving care of her family became even more central to her daughters' lives. The family lived with grandmother Anderson, and an aunt, Mary Pritchard, at various addresses in the same neighborhood. Marian's mother took in laundry and worked as a housekeeper at the John Wanamaker department store to support her daughters, and from an early age Marian, as the oldest child, felt responsibility to contribute to the family's income with money she was able to earn performing. Marian grew up with her sisters, cousins, and other children who were cared for in the home and remembered those years warmly.
Marian Anderson had been a member of the junior choir at Union Baptist Church since the age of six. This was her father's family church, where he was an officer and her aunt Mary Pritchard sang. From an early age Marian performed in church and soon was chosen to take part in special concerts. At one of these she met tenor Roland Hayes, visiting from Boston, whom she admired greatly and who gave her early encouragement.
South Philadelphia was full of music, including opera, classical, choral, and church music, vaudeville, and jazz. Anderson and her aunt Mary sang with the People's Choral Society, an African-American choral group directed by Alfred J. Hill. Under the auspices of this group, a "Popular Benefit Concert to assist in Musical Education of Miss Marion E. Anderson" was held at Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia on 23 June 1915 with William L. King as accompanist. (On her early programs Marian Anderson's name is often spelled "Marion" and in fact this alternate spelling occurs in printed materials throughout her career. Anderson always signed her correspondence "Marian Anderson" and the only document in this collection which uses her middle name is her induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as Marian Elina-Blanche Anderson.) Marian Anderson sang Saint-Saëns' "My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice" on the program. At this time Anderson was a vocal student of Mary Saunders Patterson, an African-American soprano who had been giving free voice lessons to the young contralto. Marian Anderson appeared in Patterson's spring program on 14 May 1915 and was cast in the skit "The Awakening of Spring" as the "Recluse." She also sang two numbers on the program. On 6 April 1916 she appeared as contralto soloist, with Roland Hayes singing tenor, in the People's Choral Society performance of Handel's Messiah, with her Aunt Mary Pritchard singing in the chorus. By 1917 Anderson was studying voice with contralto Agnes Reifsnyder, who was teaching a weekly "Voice Culture Class" to Alfred J. Hill's students and members of the People's Choral Society. (Information on Marian Anderson's early performances has been taken from programs in the Musical Fund Society Records, Ms. Coll. 90, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.) In a letter dated 14 December 1916 Roland Hayes invited Anderson to sing the contralto solo in the oratorio Elijah in Boston on 26 April 1917. The noted composer H. T. Burleigh sang baritone; he, too, became a trusted friend and supporter of Anderson.
While she was beginning a career in music and starting to tour to help support her family, Marian continued her education. She had completed eight grades at the Stanton Elementary School in her neighborhood in June 1910. Anderson attended William Penn High School, taking a secretarial course that did not suit her inclinations or abilities, and at some later time transferred to South Philadelphia High School for Girls, where the principal, Dr. Lucy L. W. Wilson, encouraged Marian's talent, gave her opportunities to perform in school, and facilitated her first meeting with Giuseppe Boghetti, a demanding voice teacher who had studios in New York and Philadelphia. Boghetti taught Anderson the techniques of bel canto singing, worked on her Italian language and repertoire, and continued as her teacher through the 1920s and intermittently until his death in 1941. Anderson graduated with a diploma in the academic course from South Philadelphia High School for Girls on 20 June 1921.
Early Career and Concert Management
In July of 1922 in Columbus Ohio, Marian Anderson sang at the meeting of the National Association of Negro Musicians, where she received the Association's scholarship for the year. Accompanied by Carl R. Diton on the piano, she sang "O Mio Fernando" from La Favorita and closed with "Song of the Heart" by Rosamund Johnson. Anderson gave a recital in New York's Town Hall on 23 April 1924 that was poorly attended and for which she received some negative reviews. Realizing that she had not prepared well enough for such an important venue, for a time after this concert Anderson stopped practicing and thought of giving up music as a career. Some months later, with her mother's quiet encouragement, she decided to return to study with Boghetti, knowing she would have to master the languages of the songs in her repertoire, particularly German, if she was to succeed at a professional level. Boghetti entered Anderson in a voice competition in New York in 1925 against more than 300 other singers. She won the first prize, which included a performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Lewisohn Stadium on 26 August 1925 that received overwhelmingly positive reviews and gave her national exposure.
Some of Marian Anderson's early Philadelphia concerts were managed by G. Grant Williams and by Effie Diton (Mrs. Carl R. Diton). As early as 1915 Anderson often was accompanied at the piano by William L. King (Billy King) of Philadelphia. Billy King was a good musician and hard-working promoter and took care of the arrangements for Anderson's tours to African-American colleges and community organizations in the South and Midwest. In the mid-1920s Anderson had her own management, Marian Anderson Management, using her home at 762 Martin Street in South Philadelphia as her business address. Business correspondence was handled by J. M. Marquess, who appears to have had some conflict with Billy King and resigned in 1927. At that time King took over the correspondence and booking of their appearances.
Anderson made her first record for Victor Talking Records of Camden, New Jersey, on 10 December 1923, recording the two songs "Deep River" and "I Am So Glad." She next recorded for Gramophone, Inc. (later EMI Records) in England beginning in 1928, and it appears that she did not sign a formal contract with RCA Victor in the United States until sometime in the 1930s--the earliest account and royalty statements in the Marian Anderson Papers date from 1936. She recorded with RCA Victor throughout her career.
Giuseppe Boghetti was anxious for Marian to appear at larger venues and on an equal footing with other great singers of the time. He was involved in negotiating her contract with concert manager Arthur Judson early in 1928. Judson, who managed the Philadelphia Orchestra, left Anderson's schedule in the hands of George Leyden Colledge. Although Marian Anderson and Billy King had high hopes for her career with professional management, and though she was receiving more money per concert, Anderson was disappointed when her schedule did not expand much beyond engagements she and King had played for years. King continued to do most of the legwork in arranging concert dates. But the Depression years of the early 1930s made it even more difficult for Judson Management to obtain dates for Anderson in the United States, and this was part of her motivation to live and study abroad.
Study and Performances Abroad
Anderson made her first trip to England in October 1927 to study German lieder with Maestro Raymond Muehlen in Sussex. She stayed in London at the home of John Payne, an American-born musician and actor who had settled there, who knew Anderson's family and had told her she would always be welcome to stay with him in London. Payne was the arranger of the spiritual "Crucifixion," one of her most requested and dramatic pieces. She started lessons with Muehlen, but after a few weeks he became ill and was unable to continue. She made many friends in London, however, and spent time with the composer Roger Quilter, who had offered to help her before she came to London and whose songs she learned there and continued to perform for years. She studied French with Madame Myriam Morena Pasquier and German with Frederic Morena. She took some lessons from Ira Amanda Aldrich (Montague Ring), a composer and daughter of the African-American Shakespearian actor Ira Aldrich, and spent time with Alberta Hunter and other performers, including Paul Robeson, who were appearing in the 1928 London opening of "Showboat". Anderson returned to the United States in September 1928 for scheduled performances but was eager to return to London. She also began to plan a trip to Germany to immerse herself in the language and the study of German repertoire. With funding from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation in 1930, she finally was able to take that trip, staying in Berlin with Gertrud and Matthias von Erdberg. She returned to Berlin in 1931, using an additional grant from the foundation.
Her talent caught the attention of Swedish concert manager Helmer Enwall, who asked Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen and Norwegian concert promoter Rudolf (Rulle) Rasmussen to go to Berlin to hear Anderson sing. As a result she was invited to Sweden and Norway for a concert tour, which, though short, proved to be enormously successful. Enwall, head of the management firm Konsertbolaget, became Anderson's manager for all her European tours, and he and his wife Thérèse became Anderson's friends and hosts for her extended tours and vacations in Scandinavia. Vehanen, who had accompanied the American-born Madame Sara Cahier and other noted singers, became Anderson's regular accompanist and worked assiduously to expand the singer's repertoire to include songs by Jean Sibelius, Edvard Grieg, and Yrjö Kilpinen, in addition to the German lieder she loved to perform. When Anderson returned to Europe in 1933, Kosti Vehanen arranged for her to sing for Jean Sibelius. Anderson's record of this momentous event is on a scrap of stationery, perhaps the beginning of a letter, dated 6 November: "Was guest to-day of Sibelius and his wife in their home. Sang Aus Banger Brust' and before Kosti had finished the postlude Sibelius with tears in his eyes came over and embraced me."
In December 1933 Marian Anderson was told abruptly that she would not be allowed to continue her scheduled concerts in Denmark, for the ostensible reason that "foreign artists" were taking too much currency out of the country. A letter from Ida Bachmann dated 8 December 1933 reveals some of the explanation for the policy. "I wish I were mistaken about the real reason for the government's prohibition of foreign artists,' But I feel Nazism come sneaking in on us. There has been a long series of restrictions, and by some mysterious chance they might without exception all have been dictated by Hitler. You said to me in the vestibule of the town-hall that you would come to my town and sing spirituals. If it could ever come true! But Maribo is a small and out-of-your-way town . . ."
In 1934 Anderson made her Paris debut and invited her mother to Paris to share the occasion. At one of her concerts in Paris that summer she was heard by concert manager Sol Hurok of New York, who came backstage to meet her. The following day he offered her a better contract than she had with Arthur Judson. She signed with Hurok on 15 July 1934 in Paris after a number of telegrams back and forth from her attorney in the United States, Hubert Delany, who obtained Anderson's release from her contract with Judson Management. Anderson spent 1934 and almost all of 1935 touring Europe with great success. She visited Eastern European capitals and Russia and returned again to Scandinavia, where "Marian fever" had spread to small towns and villages where she had thousands of fans.
Hurok Management and Success in the United States
Marian Anderson's return to the United States in December 1935, under Sol Hurok's management, was triumphant. Anderson had made the difficult decision earlier in the summer of 1935 to bring her Finnish accompanist Kosti Vehanen to the United State for this tour, rather than to resume her work with Billy King. King was understandably upset at losing the opportunity to continue to perform with Anderson, whom he had promoted for so many years. He tried to change her mind by telling her, her family, and her supporters that the American public would not accept a white man as her accompanist. This angered Anderson and alienated her for a time from King. Characteristically, she made her final decision based on her musical judgment--on the strength of the repertoire and musicianship she had achieved through many hours of work on her programs with Kosti Vehanen. He continued as her accompanist until 1940, when after a period of illness and hospitalization he returned to Finland. She met and performed with Vehanen again in Finland in 1956, a year before his death.
On 19 February 1936, after magnificent concerts at Town Hall in New York and at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Marian Anderson performed for the first time at the White House. The occasion was a private gathering for Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, which had been arranged through faculty at Howard University. Eleanor Roosevelt praises Marian Anderson's singing at this gathering in her column, "My Day," 21 February 1936, Washington Daily News. This was three years before Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939 because she could not support their official policy of "white performers only" in Constitution Hall, which the DAR owned. Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt remained lifelong friends. Their correspondence, though not extensive, continued to the time of Eleanor's death in 1962.
Anderson returned again to Europe in 1936 for the winter season. While there she received the news of the November 21st birth of her sister Ethel's son, named James De Preist after his father. She toured South America in 1937 and again in 1938, where she was a sensation, particularly in Buenos Aires, where Bernarbo and Maria Iriberri were her concert promoters.
In January 1939 Sol Hurok attempted to book Anderson in concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in a performance sponsored by Howard University. Hurok's request for an April 9th concert date was denied due to a previous commitment for the hall. He then asked for other dates in April and was again denied, although he found out shortly thereafter that those dates had been available to other (white) performers. This incident of discrimination against Anderson, substantiated in the correspondence between Constitution Hall's owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution, their manager, Fred Hand, and Charles Cecil Cohen of Howard University, led to Marian Anderson's appearance in an open-air concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 9 April 1939, arranged through Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. More than 75,000 people heard her sing in person there, and millions more heard her voice in a radio broadcast of the event.
In June 1939 Anderson was again a guest at the Roosevelt White House, this time at a formal concert for the King and Queen of England. On 2 July 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt presented Marian Anderson with the Spingarn Medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In October 1940 Marian Anderson began performing with pianist Franz Rupp, who remained with her for the duration of her career. A native of Bavaria, Rupp was an accomplished pianist, who had toured with Fritz Kreisler in South America and emigrated to the United States in 1938 to escape Hitler. An excellent accompanist, he was also an enjoyable traveling companion and friend. At about the same time, Isaac A. Jofe, business manger for Hurok, began to travel with Anderson, making arrangements and handling the details for Anderson's extensive tours. Franz Rupp's wife, Steffi, a singer, became a good friend and was a vocal coach for Marian Anderson.
The impending World War caused Anderson to put off a planned trip to Australia and also kept her from Europe for some time; but at this point her career in the United States was well established. Anderson performed for servicemen and women and cooperated with the U.S. Office of War Information. She bought a farm on Joe's Hill Road in Mill Plain near Danbury, Connecticut, in 1940. She named the farm "Marianna," a combination of her name and her mother's, and built a studio there next to a pond. She loved animals and enjoyed gardening and cooking and soon had horses, lambs, and a number of cats and dogs on the farm. She married architect Orpheus Hodge Fisher, of Wilmington, Delaware, in a private ceremony performed by Methodist minister Jack Grenfell on 24 July 1943. From references in her letters it seems they planned to have children, and Anderson might have given up her career singing to stay home with them if she had. But she continued with a grueling concert schedule, never spending as much time at the farm as she had envisioned.
Anderson had known Fisher, also known as "Razz" or "Razzle" and later as "King" Fisher, since she was in high school. He and his brother Leon were frequent visitors to the Anderson household on Martin Street. Mr. Fisher proposed marriage to Anderson in letters to her early in the 1920s. But during the 1920s Anderson had other suitors, including Hamel C. Joscelyn, who attended Howard University. She did not, at that time, consider giving up her career for marriage. In the 1930s newspaper articles contained speculation that Anderson might marry her attorney, Judge Hubert Delany of New York, who escorted her at her concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. But Orpheus Fisher persisted and was Marian Anderson's choice when she decided to wed.
Marian Anderson received the Philadelphia Award in 1941. Also known as "The Bok Award" for its founder Edward William Bok, it included a $10,000 prize, money Marian Anderson used to establish the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund to assist the vocal training of young singers. Anderson was not directly involved with the administration or judging for the scholarship award. Some of these details were handled by Marian's sisters Alyse Anderson and Ethel A. De Preist and by the Scholarship Fund's board. The first award from the fund was given in 1943 and continued annually through 1972, when the fund was discontinued.
Anderson enjoyed good health throughout her long life. Her presence, both on stage and off, was often remarked upon, she was tall, elegant, dignified, and beautiful. (On her 1938 application for a New York State Learner's permit Anderson's height is 5' 10" and her weight 150 lbs.) The first serious health problem that threatened her singing career came in June 1948 when she underwent surgery to remove a benign cyst from her esophagus. Fortunately she made a complete recovery and then began to plan a long postponed European tour.
Marian Anderson did not return to Europe until 1949. Her concert tour took her to places that had been utterly changed since her previous visits. While performing in London she received the following note from a woman in the audience: "Dear Miss Anderson, I wonder whether you remember an episode of about 12-14 years ago, which must have seemed very small to you but was unforgettable to me. You gave a concert recital in the Hungarian provincial town of Szeged. When you sang Das Tod und das Mädchen and some of your spirituals, we sat there with my mother, father and my sister in a row and we could not help crying. After the recital you came to our home with your Szeged impresario, Mrs. Kun. Next morning you honored us again with a visit. You sung [sic] for us, and my sister taught you a little Hungarian folk song. . . . We not only admired the great artist in you, but loved ever since the fine, cultured, good human being we met. Of all those you met in our home, it is only myself who is still alive. Mrs. Kun and her daughters, my parents and my sister, all perished in German concentration camps. Listening to you to-night will recall the happy past when we were together moved by your singing. Elizabeth (Vàrnay) Andrews"
One of the strengths of the Marian Anderson Papers is that they have preserved Mrs. Kun's correspondence and the correspondence of many other impresarios from Europe from before World War II.
Debut at the Metropolitan Opera and the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations
The 1950s brought many achievements for Anderson. She was invited by Rudolf Bing of the Metropolitan Opera to perform the role of Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi'sUn Ballo in Maschera in January 1955. Anderson was the first African-American to sing a role in a Met production, a triumph that meant a great deal to her and to her mother. Later that year Marian Anderson toured Israel for the first time and was particularly moved by her visit to Jerusalem and other sites in the Holy Land. In January 1957 she sang at the inauguration of President Dwight W. Eisenhower and later that year was sent on a tour of the Far East as a good-will ambassador by the United States Department of State. On this tour she visited Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, India, and Pakistan. A documentary of the trip was filmed and produced by Fred Friendly and Ed Murrow of CBS for the television series "See it Now." When the program was aired on 30 December 1957, it received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public, evidenced in hundreds of fan letters sent to CBS. In July 1958 Eisenhower appointed Anderson an alternate delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations where she served for one session.
On 20 January 1961 Marian Anderson sang for the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. She was in the first group to be awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom by President Kennedy. The medal ceremony was scheduled for 6 December 1963, just days after Kennedy was assassinated, so it was a moment both of great sorrow and triumph when President Johnson decided to award the medals on the scheduled day.
From 21 to 28 May 1961 Anderson visited the Soviet Union as a member of the Second Informal United States-Soviet Conference held in Crimea. She was invited to attend by Norman Cousins, then editor of the Saturday Review. Other members of the American delegation included Senator William Benton, Agnes De Mille, writer Stuart Chase, Philip E. Mosely, George Fischer, and Margaret Mead. The Soviet delegation was led by Aleksandr E. Korneichuk. Marian Anderson's notes from this conference, which received very little publicity, have survived.
The 1960s also brought personal moments of crisis and sadness to the Anderson family. In the late summer of 1962, Anderson's nephew James De Preist was struck with polio while on a conducting tour of the Far East in Thailand for the United States Department of State. Marian called upon her friend Ed Murrow, then director of the United States Information Agency, for assistance in arranging a military transport to return De Preist to the United States for treatment as soon as possible. De Preist recovered after a period of rehabilitation and enjoyed a successful career as a conductor of major symphony orchestras in the United States and Europe. Marian Anderson's mother Anna was unwell during the 1960s, and Marian often returned to her mother's home in Philadelphia to visit and assist her sister Ethel in caring for her. Anna D. Anderson died on 10 January 1964. Marian reported a "veritable blizzard" on 13 January, the day of her beloved mother's funeral service at Tindley Temple Methodist Church and her burial at Eden cemetery. The following year, on 21 May 1965, Marian's sister Alyse died. She had suffered health problems over the years, including a long hospitalization in 1953. Marian's sister Ethel continued to live in the family home at 762-764 South Martin Street in Philadelphia until her death on 1 February 1990.
Farewell Concert Tour (1964-1965) and retirement years
For the 1964 and 1965 season Hurok Concerts promoted Marian Anderson's farewell tour. It began in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in October 1964 and ended in April 1965 on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York, where she had performed so often and to such enthusiastic audiences over the years. A bonus was Anderson's performance in Philadelphia on 28 June 1965 at the Robin Hood Dell with her nephew James De Preist conducting the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra.
On 2 May 1972 Marian Anderson spoke at the dedication ceremonies of the Eleanor Roosevelt Wings of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York. She read a speech written for the occasion by Archibald MacLeish. Also speaking on the program was governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, with whom Anderson had shared many events over the years. The principal address was given by United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Anderson spoke at hundreds of such occasions in the long years of her retirement. She received hundreds of awards and was the recipient of over fifty honorary degrees. On 17 October 1978 Anderson was presented with a Congressional Medal by President Jimmy Carter.
Anderson was closely associated with public support for the arts, especially in the field of music. She was appointed by Eisenhower in April 1959 to consult on original plans for the National Cultural Center, later renamed the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Anderson was appointed a member of the National Council on the Arts by President Johnson in 1966. She also served on the Connecticut Commission for the Arts and on the boards of a number of other arts organizations. She visited schools, particularly elementary and secondary schools, and worked on issues of refugees, adoption, and education.
Marian Anderson was strongly patriotic and often fulfilled requests to perform at events commemorating the history of the United States. She received many such requests for celebrations of the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1976 and appeared at that year's fourth of July ceremonies in her home town of Philadelphia. In concert performances after her formal retirement in 1965, Anderson frequently narrated Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. The intention of this biographical sketch has been to provide a brief overview of Miss Anderson's life and supply accurate dates for some of the frequently asked queries about her life--dates that are inaccurate or misleading in much of the material on Anderson published prior to 1993, including her own autobiography, ghostwritten by Howard Taubman and published in 1956. No sketch, however, can do justice either to Marian Anderson's accomplishments as a musician, her honors and awards, or her impact on people's lives. Fortunately she preserved thousands of letters in this archive that do testify to her extraordinary ability to move people. One example, dated 25 February 1977, was written on the occasion of Anderson's 75th birthday celebration: "Dear Marion Anderson -- Today is a "special day." Hundreds of people will come to thank you and to wish you well. I am one of them. Please, allow me to tell you something I never spoke out before. It was years ago, "The Buckys" took me to "Carnegie Hall" to hear "Marian Anderson," I knew the name, but I did not know what was waiting for me. When you entered the stage I immediately felt your whole personality, your dignity, your center and--beauty, you sang "Arias" "Lieder" and "Negro Spirituals" I had never heard before. They were close to my heart. Especially one of them I shall not forget! "They crucified my Lord." While you were singing--I can not, express it by words--something cut deep into my heart it was like pain. After the concert I was not able to speak. Silently I went to bed. Suddenly--in the middle of the night--I woke up. Tears were running down my face. I cried--as when the pain of the whole world came out of me. It never happened before . . ."
The writer of this letter, Margot Einstein, the youngest stepdaughter of Albert Einstein, of Princeton, New Jersey, recounts how the experience led her eventually to meet and become friends with Anderson. When Marian Anderson received an honorary degree from Princeton University in 1959, she was welcomed in the Einstein home.
The Marian Anderson Papers include hundreds of letters from aspiring singers and musicians. Anderson's life was an inspiration to them and to thousands of other ordinary citizens of the United States and the world. One of these, singer Leontyne Price, corresponded with Anderson throughout the last years of Anderson's life.
Marian Anderson continued to live in her home in Danbury until she was well into her nineties, although her property had been sold to pay for medical and other expenses. Her husband, disabled by a 1975 stroke, died on March 26, 1986. For the last nine months of her life Anderson lived in the Portland, Oregon home of her nephew James De Preist and his wife Ginnette. She died on 8 April 1993, and her ashes were returned to Eden Cemetery outside Philadelphia to rest with her mother and sisters.
Published sources on the life of Marian Anderson that have been used in preparing this biography and in processing the Marian Anderson Papers include her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, ghost written by Howard Taubman (1956) and Marian Anderson, A Portrait by her accompanist Kosti Vehanen, written with the collaboration of George J. Barnett (1941). Both of these sources are anecdotal rather than scholarly. Information for this biography was obtained primarily from documents in the Marian Anderson Papers and related collections at the University of Pennsylvania Library. I am grateful for important new information provided by Allan Keiler of Brandeis University, author of the forthcoming biography, Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey. Additional information was provided by Nancy Shawcross, Curator of Manuscripts; Marjorie Hassen, Music Librarian; and John Bewley, Music Cataloger of the University of Pennsylvania Library who have worked with the Marian Anderson collection. The University of Pennsylvania gratefully acknowledges the donations of Marian Anderson papers received from James De Preist and his kind cooperation during this project.
The Marian Anderson Papers and related collections at the University of Pennsylvania are the principal repository for documents concerning Marian Anderson's career and personal life. The Papers comprise 495 boxes and include correspondence, business records and contracts, manuscript and typescript biographical materials; plus Anderson's notes, journals, calendars, and financial documents. Programs and publicity materials documenting her career as a world-class contralto are extensive, as is the collection of awards and honorary degrees she received during her long and memorable life. Also included are scrapbooks, memorabilia, and some materials belonging to her sisters Alyse Anderson and Ethel De Preist; her mother, Anna D. Anderson, and her husband, Orpheus H. Fisher.
Marian Anderson's donations to the University of Pennsylvania comprised much more than her papers. Her entire music library, collection of sound recordings, and her photographs were received with her papers and have been separately cataloged. Marian Anderson's music library contains more than 2,000 songs in manuscript, including many by the African-American composer Florence Price and other important composers (Ms. Coll. 199). Her library of printed scores, also numbering more than 2,000 items have been cataloged individually. Interviews with Howard Taubman and with Studs Terkel and lectures featuring Miss Anderson on audio tape have been preserved and cataloged (Ms. Coll. 201, 202, and 203). Other audio tapes feature home studio recordings made by Anderson, rehearsals, vocal coaching, and test pressings of her recordings (Ms. Coll. 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, and 210). There are more than 4,400 photographs in the collection, all preserved in albums (Ms. Coll. 198) and scanned on the website of Penn's Rare Book & Manuscript Library. A complete separation list is provided at the end of this register.
Anderson made her first donation of materials to the University of Pennsylvania in 1977, with additional large donations of papers in 1987 and in 1991. Her decision to place her papers at the University was made in consultation with her nephew, conductor James De Preist, who is an alumnus of the University. Anderson wished that her music library be made available to other students of music and that her personal memorabilia be accessible to the people of Philadelphia at this University just a short distance from the neighborhood where she grew up.
One is tempted, because it appears that Marian Anderson saved "everything," including grocery and laundry lists and menus written on the backs of receipts and on the cardboard inserts from hosiery packages, simply to describe her papers at the University of Pennsylvania as "comprehensive." However, both because Anderson was essentially a very private person and because there are strengths and weaknesses in this collection as a record of her career, the following considerations on the scope and content of these papers should be noted.
Relatively few items of correspondence or memorabilia from Anderson's early life are preserved in her papers. Those that survive include a few school notebooks, several photographs, and a few important early letters. Although Anderson performed publicly from at least 1915 on, these papers have only sixteen Marian Anderson programs dated before 1926. There is also little documentation for the last years of Anderson's life, with the exception of a few articles about her dated through 1997. The bulk of materials in this collection are dated 1926 to 1980, with few items from Anderson's earliest and later years of life.
General Correspondence comprises 6,500 folders, representing more than 6,000 individual correspondents. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and then chronologically within each correspondent's file. Items of incoming and outgoing correspondence are interfiled throughout. Unidentified correspondence is filed at the end of the General Correspondence. Anderson's outgoing correspondence was handled in various ways during the course of her career. When Billy King was performing with her, he handled most of the business correspondence, and we have carbon copies of some of his letters signed for Marian Anderson. When Anderson was in Europe in the 1930s, she answered most of her correspondence herself, and there are handwritten drafts of letters composed to some of her important correspondents--Judson, the Julius Rosenwald Foundation, Harry T. Burleigh and others. Anderson's correspondence with her European managers was probably handled by Kosti Vehanen and only a few copies survive. Marian's sisters, particularly Alyse Anderson, answered correspondence that reached Marian Anderson at the family home, 762 S. Martin Street, Philadelphia. Alyse was the paid secretary for the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund from 1943 until Alyse's death in 1965. From about 1942 through the mid-1950s, Orpheus H. Fisher also answered a number of letters to Anderson and identified himself as "business manager." Beginning in 1958 with her appointment to the United Nations as an alternate delegate, Anderson had professional secretarial assistance from Jere True for 1958-1959, then from Mary S. Dolan, 1960-1969, and from Dorothy Farrington from 1969-1980s; none of these individuals, however, was a full-time secretary. Anderson's mail sometimes went unanswered for months while she was touring, although she always made an effort ultimately to answer each correspondent.
Letters from Marian Anderson to her mother, Anna D. Anderson, in the 1930s, and later to her husband, Orpheus H. Fisher, were written while she was on tour, in North America, in Europe, or South America, and give a picture of her routine on the road, with anecdotes about her traveling companions in the 1940s and 1950s, her accompanist Franz Rupp and the business manager for Hurok Concerts, Isaac A. Jofe. Anderson was not a philosophical or self-revealing letter writer, however, and few of her letters express her feelings on religion, love, or racial politics. She was interested in current events, in the places and people she visited, in food, home decorating, gardening, and her old neighbors and friends in South Philadelphia, and these are the interests expressed in her letters.
The Marian Anderson Papers preserve her correspondence with thousands of organizations, mostly in the United States, some from abroad. These include many sectarian groups, churches, and synagogues, and thus are a resource for the study of religion in the United States of America in the twentieth century. Many church leaders and some of her admirers perceived Anderson as a spiritual figure and wrote to her about their religious experiences and beliefs. Marian Anderson had close associations with many Jewish friends and with Jewish organizations, and to a certain extent, her papers are a resource for studying the alliances between African-Americans and Jews in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the organizations with correspondence in these papers focused on issues of international cooperation, world peace, problems of refugees and hunger, social justice, racial equality, support for political candidates, and education.
Music, however, is the primary focus of much of the correspondence. Of the individuals who wrote to Anderson, many are composers, both well-known and unknown, who sent their original songs to her in the hope that she would study and perform them. Among the important composers and arrangers represented in the correspondence series are: Victor Babin, Irving Berlin, Eubie Blake, Harry T. Burleigh, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Will Marion Cook, Aaron Copland, Cecil Cohen, James Francis Cooke, William L. Dawson, Teresa Del Riego, R. Nathaniel Dett, Nicholas Douty, Howard Hanson, Edward Ellsworth Hipsher, Hall Johnson, Paul Krummeich, Frances McCollin, Leo Marjamaki, Gian-Carlo Menotti, Kurt Pahlen, Florence B. Price, Roger Quilter, Roman Ryterband, Geni Sadero (who was also Marian Anderson's coach for Italian during the 1930s in Europe), Jean Sibelius, Elie Siegmeister, William Grant Still, Howard Swanson, Kosti Vehanen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Clarence Cameron White. Sibelius dedicated his song "Solitude" to Marian Anderson, the manuscript forms part of the Marian Anderson Collection of Manuscript Music (Ms. Coll. 199). Approximately a third of the composers who sent manuscripts to Anderson for her consideration were women; these papers and scores are thus an important resource for studying the work of women composers in the twentieth century.
In addition, Anderson corresponded and remained friends with many prominent conductors and musicians, including: Frederic Balazs, Leonard Bernstein, Antal Dorati, Boris Goldovsky, Kurt Johnen, Serge Koussevitzky, Sixten Malming, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, Mstislav Rostropovich, Fabian Sevitzky, Isaac Stern, Leopold Stokowski, and Tullio Voghera.
Singers and actors represented in the Marian Anderson Papers include: Josephine Baker, McHenry Boatwright, Lillian Evanti, Eva Gautier, Elena Gerhardt, Dick Gregory, Helen Hayes, Roland Hayes, Raymond Massey, Dorothy Maynor, Jan Peerce, Ezio Pinza, Sidney Poitier, Lily Pons, Leontyne Price, Lawrence Tibbett, Richard Tucker, and William Warfield, among many others.
Anderson corresponded with many African-American educators, scholars, musicians, and leaders of the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Among them are Ralph Bunche, Shirley Chisholm, W. E. B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Lester B. Granger, Dorothy I. Height, Charlotte Moton Hubbard, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Alain LeRoy Locke, Thurgood Marshall, Camille Nickerson, Adam Clayton Powell, Jackie Robinson, Leon Sullivan, Anson Phelphs Stokes, and Walter White and Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Her papers also document the lives and aspirations of many less well-known African Americans and many civic organizations founded by and for African Americans.
Writers, editors, scholars, artists, and prominent figures who corresponded with Marian Anderson include Norman Cousins, Frank Crowninshield, Margaret Cuthbert, Dorothy Fields, Henry Ford, Leo Friedlander, R. Buckminster Fuller, Moss Hart, Melville J. Herskovits, Archibald MacLeish, Reinhold Niebuhr, Norman Vincent Peale, Florence M. Read, and Rex Stout among many others.
World leaders and ambassadors who corresponded with Anderson include Syngman Rhee and Francesca Donner Rhee of Korea; Jawalharlall Nehru and Indira Gandhi of India; Golda Meir of Israel; U Nu and U Thant of Burma. There is correspondence in the Marian Anderson Papers with each United States President from Truman to Bush, although she was associated most closely with the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. Anderson's correspondence includes letters from John Foster Dulles, Ramsey Clark, Harold L. Ickes, Robert F. Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy, Hubert H. Humphrey, George McGovern, Adlai E. Stevenson, and Lady Bird Johnson, who invited Marian Anderson to tour with her. In addition to Anderson's correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt, which spans the years from 1939 to 1962, Anderson also remained in contact with the Roosevelts' children, including John A. Roosevelt, James Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Anna Roosevelt.
Marian Anderson corresponded with a large number of governors, mayors, congressional representatives, senators, and other representatives of state and local governments. The most important of these were New York's governor Nelson A. Rockefeller; New York mayors Abraham D. Beame, Fiorello La Guardia, Robert F. Wagner, John V. Lindsay, and Ed Koch; and Connecticut's governors John Dempsey and Ella T. Grasso and Senator Abraham Ribicoff.
Management Correspondence from Marian Anderson Management, Concert Management Arthur Judson, and from William L. King gives a fairly comprehensive record of her career performances from 1926 through 1932. Beginning in 1930 Anderson saved most of her contracts and correspondence with her managers and other impresarios in Europe and South America through 1938. Most of this material is in German, some is in French, Italian, Spanish, and other languages (including Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, and Polish).
Anderson signed her first contract with Sol Hurok in Paris on 15 July 1934 and began her performances in the United States under Hurok's management in December 1935. She remained under Hurok's management for the rest of her career. Sol Hurok's management firm was sold in the 1970s and later acquired by ICM. Although there are some materials--correspondence, contracts, and itineraries--from each of these Hurok years up through 1977, they are by no means complete or comprehensive. For a number of these years, the weekly or bi-weekly account statements from Hurok are the most complete record of Marian Anderson's concert activity.
The letters from admirers, or "fan mail" in the Marian Anderson Papers contain a number of extraordinary testimonies and emotional responses to Anderson's performances and reveal her dignity and presence as a public figure. The writers represent a broad cross-section of Americans from many ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups, with a large number from Europe and other countries around the world where Anderson toured. The fan mail is a resource for the study of the impact of the media on the image of the performer, from the intimacy of radio broadcasts in the 1940s to the extravaganzas of television specials in the 1960s and 1970s.
The fan mail comprises one small and two larger groups of correspondence. First are poems, usually sent with letters, that are tributes to Marian Anderson. Most are by amateurs but a few are the work of established poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks. In the case of poems by known authors, each has been cataloged individually in Franklin. The remainder are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the author.
The second group is correspondence from children and schools. All material from elementary or secondary schools has been filed together in this series and includes fan letters from children (some with responses from Miss Anderson), drawings by children, some photographs of school children, letters from teachers, correspondence concerning Anderson's visits to certain schools, and the naming of schools after Marian Anderson. Approximately 250 schools are represented, and there is an additional box of fan letters written by admirers under the age of eighteen, arranged chronologically.
The third group of letters from admirers comprises the bulk of the fan mail, arranged geographically (letters from European fans are arranged separately from letters from United States fans), then chronologically (all 1939 fan mail, including responses to Marian Anderson's historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial is foldered together), and finally alphabetically within each folder. There over 2,000 letters (some with responses from Anderson or her secretary) in this series, dated from 1924 to 1991.
Marian Anderson's speeches, writings, and scripts for performances form a relatively small part of the papers. Anderson was not a writer and many of the speeches she gave and articles she wrote, mostly for publicity purposes for Hurok Concerts, were the work of other authors and publicists. There are scripts for her live radio broadcasts, primarily for the Bell Telephone Hour, but also for a number of other radio shows and television broadcasts.
The story of Marian Anderson's life attracted much attention from the press over the years of her career but no full scholarly biography was attempted during her lifetime, partly because of her reluctance to speak about herself. Her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, was ghost written by Howard Taubman in 1956 and is based on transcriptions of interviews he conducted with Anderson. These materials--articles about Marian Anderson, taped interviews, transcriptions, and the typescript for her autobiography--all form part of the Marian Anderson Papers.
Marian Anderson's personal journals, diaries, and notebooks were kept primarily for the purpose of recording itineraries and expenses for income tax purposes, although some of them were used to record Anderson's impressions as she toured. While very open to people whom she met and with whom she talked, Marian Anderson was not inclined to write about her personal feelings or to analyze some of the issues, including race, about which she constantly was asked. In general, Anderson's letters to her family members are a better source for her thoughts and reactions to the events of her life than are her journals.
Materials related to Marian Anderson's family members are very limited in scope and quantity. There are some notes that Anna D. Anderson made just after her trip to visit Marian in Europe in 1934, and some correspondence related to her rental of a summer home in Pleasantville, New Jersey. There are more papers from Alyse's life. She was involved in Democratic politics in Philadelphia, was a singer and actress, and administered the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund. Very few items concerning Ethel De Preist are included in these papers. Materials for Orpheus H. Fisher and Marianna Farms include some correspondence, leases and deeds, and some receipts for expenses.
Financial records in the Marian Anderson Papers provide some insights into her expenses and income but are by no means complete. She kept records and receipts for income taxes; these materials were not in any order when received at the University of Pennsylvania. An attempt has been made to arrange them chronologically, but many are undated. The best source for information about Marian Anderson's income from her concert tours are the Hurok Concerts Account statements, which were mailed to her on a regular basis when she was touring. During her career, Marian Anderson's legal matters were attended to by Judge Hubert T. Delany of New York from about 1929 to the 1940s and by George W. Crawford of Hartford, Connecticut, from 1945 to 1969. Delany set up accounts for Marian Anderson's support of her mother and sisters and set up the accounts for the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund, which Anderson continued to contribute to until it was discontinued in 1973.
Programs for Anderson's performances in the Marian Anderson Papers are a valuable resource for the study of her repertoire, which was far more extensive than is commonly realized. Her name was constantly associated with Schubert's "Ave Maria" and with spirituals, especially "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," but she performed over 200 songs, and spent considerable time studying each and translating the lyrics for herself to aid in her interpretation of each piece. There are also programs from a number of other performers, both in the program series and as enclosures in correspondence from singers to Anderson.
Publicity materials from Hurok Concerts are extensive and complete for most years. These include press releases, press kits, posters, photographs, and souvenir program books. They document Hurok's tremendous success in promoting Marian Anderson. Anderson recorded for RCA Victor throughout her career and RCA's publicity materials form part of this series. There are fewer materials from Concert Management Arthur Judson. Newspaper clippings, arranged chronologically, document much of her public life. These materials also are found in the series of scrapbooks, some compiled by Hurok Concerts, Inc., some compiled by family and friends, and some compiled by fans. Researchers should be aware that some correspondence and photographs are mounted in scrapbooks and not indexed.
The Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund papers are incomplete, with some years more fully represented than others. This annual contest and award was founded by Marian Anderson to aid young singers of all races and backgrounds. Records include copies of application forms, lists of suggested repertoire for the contestants, and information from the judging for some years, which was usually held at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia. There are applications and individual files for some of the winners of the award including Grace Bumbry, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Reri Grist, Florence Quivar, and Shirley Verrett.
Awards and honorary degrees form a large part of the bulk of the Anderson Papers and are described in the container list. They include the Spingarn Medal awarded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Grammy Nominations, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Honor, among several hundred awards. In some cases, information about a given award may be found in several locations--in General Correspondence under the name of the organization that gave the award, in the files of certificates given with the award, in programs for the occasion, and on the award itself, boxed with three-dimensional items.
Memorabilia consists of gifts received and kept by Anderson--dolls, prints, scarves, handkerchiefs--and other materials she saved, including greeting cards and postage stamps. Where greeting cards form part of the correspondence with people she knew well, the cards are filed in General Correspondence, other are boxed in Memorabilia.
The final series, materials related to Marian Anderson's tenure on Boards of Directors, and her service as a Trustee or Commissioner comprises minutes of meetings, memoranda, newsletters, and other materials sent to Anderson in her capacity as a director or trustee, arranged chronologically. Correspondence with these organizations will be found in General Correspondence. Only routine memoranda are found in the last series.
As a result of a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) project, "Discovering Marian Anderson," selections of material from this and other Marian Anderson collections may be viewed online.
Gift of Marian Anderson, 1977-1991, with additional donations from James De Preist and the Free Library of Philadelphia, 1977-1996.
For a complete listing of correspondents, do the following title search in Franklin: Marian Anderson Papers
Correspondence, Writings, Business and Legal Matters, and Oversize processed by Margaret Kruesi, assisted by Jessica Dodson.
Photographs, Programs, Publicity, Clippings, Awards, Honorary Degrees and Memorabilia processed by Donna Brandolisio.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Margaret Kruesi
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of the Marian Anderson Papers and the preparation of this register were made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.