America and Marian Anderson

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Something for the weekend.  Only one song is appropriate I think for a Fourth of July weekend:  America.  Written by a Baptist minister, Samuel Francis, and set to the tune, ironically, of God Save the Queen, the song was first performed on July 4, 1831 at Park Street Church in Boston.  Near the end of his life, Francis was proposed by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr, for an honorary degree from Harvard.  Harvard turned this proposal down on the grounds that Smith had not written the tune.  The reply of Holmes was memorable and prophetic:  His song will be sung centuries from now, when most of us and our pipings are forgotten.

The rendition at the beginning of this post is by Marian Anderson, perhaps the most gifted songstress of her generation.  A devout Christian, this granddaughter of slaves was denied the opportunity by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939.  In 1939 the District of Columbia was controlled by committees of Congress.  Democrat segregationists rigidly enforced rules of segregation in the District.  Blacks were rightly upset that during a performance by Miss Anderson, if it had been held at Constitution Hall, they would have been required to sit in the back of the hall.  The District of Columbia Board of Education, controlled by Democrats, declined to allow Marian Anderson to perform in the auditorium of a white school.  To her credit, Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband arranged for Anderson to give her unforgettable performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday.

During the war years, Miss Anderson spent a large part of her time entertaining troops.  In 1943, at the invitation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang before an integrated audience for a Red Cross benefit.  The always gracious Miss Anderson remembered the event:  When I finally walked onto the stage of Constitution Hall, I felt no different than I had in other halls. There was no sense of triumph. I felt that it was a beautiful concert hall and I was very happy to sing there.”

Here is a video of Miss Anderson singing The Star Spangled Banner in 1942 after launching the USS Booker T. Washington:

In 1944 she gave an unforgettable rendition of Ave Maria by Schubert:

Patriotic songs not only express our love for our country but our aspirations for it, and in that regard I think it is good that Marian Anderson and the song America will ever be entwined in American memory.

 

 

 

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One Comment

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt disengaged herself from the Daughters of the American Revolution after the incident. Being informed of this, I refused to enter my daughters for membership in the DAR, even for scholarships.
    .
    George Washington never fought at Valley Forge for Marian Anderson to be treated as two-thirds of a person.

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