This Day in Black History: Jan. 7, 1955

Marian Anderson became the first Black person to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's Masked Ball in 1955.

Posted: 01/07/2013 07:00 AM EST

(Photo: Wikicommons via Library of Congress)

On January 7, 1955, Philadelphia-born singer Marian Anderson broke barriers when she became the first Black person to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera as a regular company member. She played the role of Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's opera Un Ballo in Maschera (The Masked Ball).

Despite Anderson's talents early on in her career, her ascent to success was not without its obstacles. Most notable is the Daughters of American Revolution's refusal to allow Anderson to sing at Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall in 1939 due to segregation. Protests ensued and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson's manager and the NAACP, arranged for an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday where she sang to a crowd of 75,000 people, not including those who tuned in via radio.

The celebrated contralto served as inspiration for artists struggling through racial prejudices and Anderson used her position to participate in the 1960's civil rights movement and sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

Anderson received numerous recognitions including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.

 

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