About this Recording
8.120779 - ANDERSON, Marian: Ev'ry Time I Feel The Spirit (1930-1947)

“Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit” Original 1930-1947 Recordings

For the greater part of her long life Marian Anderson was an all-American Legend. Internationally acclaimed as a recitalist (opera was never to be her niche) she was the first female black American artist to win full recognition in her native country. She furthered the tradition set by other American Negro concert artists (including the tenor John Payne and soprano Edna Thomas, and the baritone-songwriter Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) and his tenor protégé Roland Hayes, 1887-1977) and her name, quite apart from any obvious symbolism of black emancipation,was for decades a synonym for the finest performances not only of spirituals but also of German lieder and European and Scandinavian art song. Whatever she sang with that ‘biblical voice’, that ‘incomparable stream of resonance’ which Lauri-Volpi aptly defined an ‘unexpected fusion of contralto, mezzo and soprano’, her dynamic presence and communicating power made Anderson in many senses a pioneering spirit.

The daughter of an iceman and coal merchant and a laundress, Marian was born in Southern Philadelphia on 19 February 1897, in humble but God-fearing circumstances, which gave no indication of the glorious career that was to follow. Musically gifted, as a child she played both violin and piano and from the age of six sang in the South Philadelphia Union Baptist Church Choir. Her father died when she was twelve and from that point her mother took the reins, encouraging Marian musically. In her teens, still billed ‘The 10-year-old contralto’, she appeared regularly in spiritual concerts and at one of these events she was ‘discovered’ by no less a figure than Hayes himself, who promptly recommended her precocious talent to concert promoters.

By 1923, when she entered and won a Philadelphia singing competition,Anderson was already a seasoned performer but aspired to further study at the Philadelphia Academy. When denied admission to that establishment on racial grounds, she moved instead to New York for private tuition first with Giuseppe Boghetti and subsequently with Frank La Forge (1879-1953), the Illinois-born pianist, songwriter and vocal coach through whose introduction, in 1924, she made her first recordings, for Victor. These included ‘Deep River’ and ‘My Way’s Cloudy’, two of the many now standard spiritual arrangements by the Pennsylvania-born Burleigh.

In mid-1925,Anderson outstripped 300 other applicants in a competition, which carried the prize of a New York Philharmonic concert at the Lewisohn Stadium on 27 August. Although this success won her national recognition, she had already set her sights on greater, transatlantic, opportunities for further training and, under the auspices of the National Association, she travelled to England. There, she was encouraged by, among others, the conductor Sir Henry J.Wood (she made her first Wigmore Hall appearance with him in 1928) and soon found herself launched on a European concert career.

Whilst the novelty of a black woman performing with such authority – in the original languages and at prestigious venues – formed part of the attraction, the charm of her stage presence and the musicality and sheer range of her singing swung the pendulum unequivocally in Marian’s favour. From 1927 the concert platforms of Europe’s cultural centres were her preferred habitat, although her 1929 New York Carnegie Hall drew a less than unequivocal response. After retiring for further study (in Stockholm with the renowned teacher Mme Charles Cahier (1870-1951), the Nashville-born daughter of General Walker and former Metropolitan Opera contralto) she next embarked, in 1930, on the first of her many European and Scandinavian concert tours. Rapturously welcomed wherever she appeared (and most notably in Paris,Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Geneva, Berlin and in the Soviet Union) she filled houses and caused a sensation.

Between 1930 and 1932 Marian Anderson gave more than fifty recitals in Scandinavia alone and, just as McCormack would dish up, without condescension,Thomas Moore and Ernest R. Ball in the same programme as Handel, Brahms and Wolf, a typical Anderson recital featured Negro spirituals (Heav’n, Heav’n (I Got A Robe), Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,Were You There and Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit were among the most frequently aired) alternating arias by Bach, Handel and Scarlatti with ‘standards’ by Schubert and Schumann, uttered in the same idiomatic breath as Massenet and Rachmaninov. Extended scenas, chosen to display her capacity for more vocally demanding music,were also regularly featured: the mezzo-soprano showpieces O mio Fernando (from Donizetti’s La favorita, 1840) and Eboli’s aria from Verdi’s Don Carlos, plus items appropriated from the soprano repertoire, such as Lia’s air from Tchaikovsky’s Maid of Orleans (1879) and Debussy’s cantata L’enfant prodigue (1884).

The recordings Anderson made in London in 1928 set a trend that would endear her to a wider audience than that of the recital hall. These discs, which were to become best-sellers throughout English-speaking countries, included spirituals, Handel’s Messiah and impressive – and best-selling – accounts (in translation) of Delilah’s ever-popular solos:‘Softly Awakes My Heart’ (this became her virtual signature-tune; see Naxos Nostalgia 8.120566) and O Love, From Thy Power (this last sung here in a 1930 recording made in Berlin, for Artiphon). From the mid-1930s she recorded a most eclectic lieder repertoire, in sessions in Paris and New York.

Between 1933 and 1934 Anderson toured extensively in Europe, Scandinavia and Australia and her triumphant appearance at the 1935 Salzburg Festival prompted Toscanini’s famous pronouncement that hers was a voice that ‘is heard but once in 100 years’. During 1937 she gave seventeen recitals in Buenos Aires alone and final acceptance in her own country seemed imminent, after warm receptions accorded to her recitals at New York’s Town Hall (November 1935) and Carnegie Hall (January 1936). Around this time she made various recordings of lieder and songs by Scandinavian composers including the Finns Sibelius and Palmgren, whose works she actively promoted in her recitals.

In 1938 Marian Anderson received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Harvard University and even sang at the White House for President Franklin D and Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, before national controversy overshadowed her attempt to appear at Constitution Hall in Washington DC in February 1939. On that occasion the Daughters of the American Revolution cited their segregation clause to debar her but when Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of their select company, threatened to resign in protest, the resulting publicity swung the decision in Marian’s favour and, on 9 April, Easter Sunday, she gave her now legendary Lincoln Memorial Concert before a 75,000-strong audience which, via NBC’s coast-to-coast network reached an estimated further 200,000 and earned her the 1939 Spingarn Award for the ‘highest and noblest achievement by an American Negro’. Later in 1939, when King George V visited Washington, Marian was again summoned to sing at the White House.

In 1945 Anderson sang at a reception for General Eisenhower marking the end of the War in Europe and in 1953 became the first black singer to perform at the Japanese imperial court. On 7 January 1955 she realised another ambition when, aged 58 years, she made a triumphant operatic début at the New York Met (as the sorceress Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera) and, by the time her early vicissitudes were modestly recounted in her memoir My Lord, What A Morning (New York, 1956), she had added ambassadorial status to her credentials when she was delegated by President Eisenhower to the United Nations General Assembly for the 1957 and 1958 sessions.

Subsequently,Anderson received many further honours, including honorary degrees from the Universities of Princeton and New York and medallions from Finland, Japan, Sweden and elsewhere. A guest artist at President John F Kennedy’s inaugural ball at the White House in 1961, two years later she was awarded the American Freedom Medal by his successor Lyndon B Johnson. Her career continued until her farewell concert, at Carnegie Hall, on Easter Sunday, 18 April 1965. In 1975, in honour of her (nominal) 75th birthday, the US Congress struck a special gold medal.

Marian Anderson died in Portland, Oregon, on 8 April 1993.

Peter Dempsey, 2004

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