Not many people remember Marian Anderson. When she died in 1993 at age 96, her career as a singer of art songs and spirituals was far in the past. She was already a historical figure, for her name was often paired with Eleanor Roosevelt, who had died nearly thirty years earlier. She had been mostly forgotten.
According to Raymond Arsenault in his book The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America, Anderson was as important a civil rights figure as boxer Joe Louis, baseball star Jackie Robinson, and seamstress Rosa Parks. With her beautiful voice and insistence on her right to be heard in the finest concert halls despite her race, she exposed the absurdity of Jim Crow laws. In the 1930s, she had spent nearly three years in Europe singing for enthusiastic audiences and had been accorded many privileges of fame. Back in the United States, she could not even get a hotel room in many cities because of her skin color. In 1939 she was at the center of a controversy in Washington, D.C., where both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the public schools denied her auditoriums for a concert. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR because of its "whites only" rule for Constitution Hall. When Anderson sang at the only venue allowed, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 75,000 people came.
The Sound of Freedom is a laudatory account of Anderson's career and her role in the civil rights movement. Arsenault portrays the singer as a humble and somewhat shy person, who never set out to be a hero. Many people both black and white helped her grow into the role that she played. If I had had this biography when putting together my forthcoming book Real Lives Revealed, I could have put it in either the Inspirational chapter under "Exemplary Lives" or the Historical chapter under "Human Rights and Social Justice Stories." The Sound of Freedom should be in most public libraries.
Arsenault, Raymond. The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America. Bloomsbury Press, 2009. ISBN 9781596915787