Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was a renowned contralto singer, humanitarian and reluctant symbol for anti-segregation in the Civil Rights era.
On Sept. 11, Converse presented a free concert of works that were meaningful for Anderson. Entitled “Remembering Marian: Her Life in Song,” the program was assembled by Dr. Susan Lyle, associate professor of voice and director of choral activities at Converse, and was a chronological voyage into Anderson’s life and work. It also included audio and visual pieces, as well as live performances from students and faculty of Converse’s Petrie School of Music.
The following day (Sept. 12), an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of Anderson was dedicated in front of Twichell Auditorium–its permanent home–immediately following the 11:30 a.m. Opening Convocation ceremony.
“Marian Anderson pursued her passion in life, and traditional boundaries faded with her willingness and incredible perseverance to share her gift of song,” said Converse President Betsy Fleming. “Despite a difficult childhood and significant resistance because of the color of her skin, Anderson recognized, early on, her extraordinary talent for song and set her sights high. Her educational and professional successes were extraordinary: She performed in front of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial, was the first black singer to sing a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera and served as a delegate to the United Nations.
“At Converse, we follow her example by helping students to find their unique voices. We empower them to discover and to pursue their passion in life, to set high expectations, and to harness their talents and skills to make the world a better place. We are the only women’s college with a comprehensive school of music and the first women’s college to be named an All-Steinway School. Marian Anderson is a wonderful model for all Converse students.”
The Marian Anderson statue is the fourth in a series of five figurative works depicting prominent women in American history that are permanently displayed throughout the Converse campus. Statues of famed poet Emily Dickinson, astronomer Maria Mitchell and artist Mary Cassatt have already been installed on the campus since the project began in 2004.
On Sept. 7, before the statue of Anderson arrived at Converse, it was unveiled in Philadelphia, PA, the singer’s birthplace and the home of the Marian Anderson Historical Society. Thirty-two Petrie School students and faculty were on hand at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for the 11:30 a.m. unveiling and a black-tie ball that evening.
During the 11:30 a.m. unveiling, the delegation from Converse presented two choral works: “My Lord What a Morning,” and a piece written by Dr. Scott Robbins, interim dean of the Petrie School, and associate professor of musicology and composition. The evening gala included performances by Converse students and Marian Anderson Scholars (a program run by the Marian Anderson Historical Society). Two opera scenes will be performed: “Troiades,” by David Berry, associate professor of music history and theory at Converse, and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi.