The Voice That Challenged a Nation

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2005

By Russell Freedman, Reviewed by Akeyla Todd

The Voice That Challenged a Nation book cover

The Voice That Challenged a Nation, by Russell
Freedman; Clarion Books: New York, 2oo4; $18

Marian Anderson was a great opera singer during the 1930s and 1940s. She was also an African- American. Marian was born on February 27, 1897, in South Philadelphia. She was the oldest of three daughters of John and Anna Anderson.

At age twelve, Marian lost her committed father to death. Her mother had to raise her three daughters by herself. Marian worked to help her mother by scrubbing steps and running errands for her mother with her sisters. Today it is very unlikely that a kid would be scrubbing steps in an urban area like Philadelphia. It amazed me how the family worked together to make ends meet. Whenever she got money from her performances it was usually five dollars, and she gave her mother two dollars, gave one to each of her sisters and kept one for herself. Even though I think that today’s kids are very caring, I think that not many would give their hard-earned money away like this, especially to their younger siblings. Marian got through school and was able to afford music lessons because the Union Baptist Church, which she attended, raised money for her. She had joined the senior and junior choirs and never missed a Sunday with them. She was very dedicated to these choirs and loved to sing. I was amazed at this symbol of unity in the African- American culture as well as the American culture in general.

Her goal at that time was to be able to study and improve her voice at a certain school. However, when she went there for an application, she was turned down because she was black. The way the author described the situation made me livid. A singer with a voice like Marian’s deserved to be heard and accepted at a famous and first-class school. This incident made her wonder why she wasn’t able to get an application because, even though she was black, she knew she sang amazingly well and she had great potential. However, she did go on and I believe that this incident helped her to overcome some of the other surprises that were caused by prejudice along the way.

What Marian went through to be recognized in mainstream America made me distressed and perplexed. How could a country that proclaimed “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all be so cruel and prejudiced toward one of its own? Even after Marian became famous in Europe and loved in America, the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the right to sing at Constitution Hall. Many people stood by Marian, including Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady at the time. Eleanor went so far as to resign from her position in the DAR in order to protest against Marian’s rejection to sing at Constitution Hall. On April 9, 1939, Marian sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to thousands of people, being “the voice that challenged a nation.” She sang two more times at the Lincoln Memorial, one being in 1963, at the Civil Rights March, when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1955, she became the first African-American soloist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She led the way for many artists, including her nephew, James DePriest, who was able to conduct a series of concerts in Constitution Hall. She was not only extraordinary because of her voice, but also her strength, dignity and character, which shone through her voice. She was an inspiration and role model, not only for African-Americans, but also people of all nations.

The Voice That Challenged a Nation Akeyla Todd

Akeyla Todd, 12
Bronx, New York

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