Contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993) grew up in a working-class Philadelphia family. Recognizing her vocal talent, her church raised money for music lessons. She had, according to conductor Arturo Toscanini, a once-in-a-century voice. She went on to perform worldwide; however, her most famous performance took place in Washington, DC on Easter Sunday 1939.
The Anacostia Community Museum's collection includes the monogrammed fur coat that Anderson wore when she sang at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Artworks by DC artists James Amos Porter and Donnell Lewis recall her Easter Sunday 1939 recital.
Concert programs, photos, and recordings also testify to Anderson's connection with the District of Columbia, which spanned most of the twentieth century. For example, as Honorary Chair of the National Negro Opera Company, her name and photo appear in a program for a performance starring lyric soprano Lillian Evanti, a native of Washington, DC whose pathbreaking career aided Anderson in becoming the first African American to sing with the Metropolitan Opera.
Another program, from Anderson's cancelled Constitution Hall concert, belonged to District resident Percival Bryan, who collected autographs, first as a White House butler, and later as a taxi driver. A photo of Anderson with DC's Tomlinson D. Todd likely accompanied her appearance on his radio show, Americans All.