Marian Anderson And The Heritage Of Spirituals Arthur L. Farstad and -- By: Frances A. Mosher

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 06:2 (Autumn 1993)
Article: Marian Anderson And The Heritage Of Spirituals Arthur L. Farstad and
Author: Frances A. Mosher

Marian Anderson And The Heritage Of Spirituals
Arthur L. Farstad

Frances A. Mosher

Pianist, Christ Congregation
Dallas, Texas

I. Introduction

It is reported that even the bellhops that Easter morning in Washington, D.C. prayed, “Lord, please don’t let it rain!”

Their prayer—and that of thousands of others—was answered. Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, dawned gray and cloudy, but it didn’t rain. Washington in 1939 was a sleepy Southern town not noted for its racial justice. Why should the bellhops care? A distinguished lady member of the racial group of many of them, a lady who had conquered the capitals of Europe with her magnificent voice, was to sing at the impressive Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. Room for all people of every ethnic group.

The story is well known. Marian Anderson was to have sung at prestigious Constitution Hall, then the only large auditorium in Washington—until the Daughters of the American Revolution found out that the performer who wanted to rent their Hall was an African American (a race forbidden to perform by a clause in the by-laws of their Hall).

The reaction in the music world and elsewhere was shock:

Leading musicians whom Marian did not know canceled their concerts at Constitution Hall; journalists, government and religious leaders, public and private citizens alike, rose as one. This insult to American democracy was more than they could stand.

“I am ashamed to play at Constitution Hall,” said Jasha Heifitz, one of the world’s leading violinists.

“One of the most monstrous and stupid things that has happened in America in years,” said Heywood Broun, journalist.

Walter Damrosch, composer-conductor; Deems Taylor, critic; Lawrence Tibbett, Metropolitan star and president of the American Guild of Musical Artists; Fiorello La Guardia, Mayor of New York City; and hundreds of others sent the D.A.R. wires of protest. Wired Deems Taylor:

This action subverts the clear meaning of the U.S. Constitution, in particular the Bill of Rights, and places your organization in the camp of those who seek to destroy democracy, justice, and liberty.1

The D.A.R.’s decision became a cause célbre. Here are Miss Anderson’s own recollections:

I was in San Francisco, I recall, when I passed a newsstand, and my eye caught a headline: MRS. ROOSEVELT TAKES STAND. Under this was another line, in bold print just a bit smaller: RESIGNS FROM D.A.R., etc. I was on my way to...

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