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80 Years Ago Marian Anderson Performed For Some 75,000 People At The Lincoln Memorial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to step away from the news of the day for a little moment of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIAN ANDERSON: (Singing) My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee we sing.

SHAPIRO: On this day 80 years ago, Marian Anderson performed in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was Easter Sunday 1939.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON: (Singing) From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO ANNOUNCER: Marian Anderson is singing this public concert at the Lincoln Memorial because she was unable to get an auditorium to accommodate the tremendous audience that wished to hear her.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That NBC radio announcer didn't tell the whole story. Anderson's first choice of venue had been denied to her. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall. The reason - because she was black.

SHAPIRO: Then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in. She quit the DAR, and others followed. And Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes invited her to sing before the statue of the great emancipator. He also gave opening remarks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAROLD ICKES: Genius draws no color lines. She has endowed Marian Anderson with such a voice as lifts any individual above his fellows as is a matter of exultant pride to any race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON: (Vocalizing).

CHANG: Marian Anderson was 37 years old. The famed conductor Arturo Toscanini said her voice was one that, quote, "came once in a hundred years."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAPIRO: Some 75,000 people gathered to hear Anderson at the concert that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON: (Vocalizing).

CHANG: That's contralto Marian Anderson performing at the Lincoln Memorial 80 years ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON: (Singing, unintelligible). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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