Marian Anderson

Coat Couture

Marian Anderson donned fur coats on many occasions, from her iconic Easter Sunday concert in 1939 to presidential inaugurations. In the early to mid-twentieth century, wearing fur was a sign of financial prosperity, and, for African American women, it could also signal racial uplift as well as elevated social status. (A growing animal rights movement made fur less fashionable toward the mid- to late twentieth century.)

Anderson wore this mink coat for President John F. Kennedy's inauguration on a snowy January day in 1961. In singing the first and fourth verses of the Star Spangled Banner, she became the only American to sing at two presidential inaugurations. 

(Anderson had become the first African American woman to perform at a presidential inauguration four years earlier, singing the national anthem as President Dwight D. Eisenhower began his second term in office.)

The long coat's silk lining is monogrammed with the singer’s embroidered initials, "MAF." Anderson's spouse was architect Orpheus "King" Fisher, hence the "F".  

The letters "MFA" are stitched in dark brown thread against the coat's lighter brown silk lining.

The fur coat was one of seven found by Anderson's family in 1992 as they prepared for her move to Oregon, where nephew James DePreist conducted the Oregon Symphony. Photos below show four different furs belonging to Anderson. For example, she wears a fox stole upon arrival to Union Station prior to her Easter Sunday 1939 concert. 

In her autobiography, Anderson describes choosing her professional wardrobe with great care. She knew how to sew and recounts taking her sewing machine on tour, making casual summer clothes for herself and winning a friendly wager with her spouse for completing lined curtains for their Connecticut home while on the road. Washingtonian Denyce Graves wore a satin gown given to her by Anderson as she reprised her mentor's Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009. 

When Anderson wore a fur coat for her Easter Sunday concert in 1939, it reminded Americans that policies of racial segregation denied her the comfort of singing indoors. As noted by Richard Kurin, her "coat attests to the fact that a narrow act of racial prejudice had been transformed into a public performance that commanded national respect."

Resources

Anderson, Marian. My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography. New York: Viking Press, 1956.

Jones, Alisha Lola. "Lift Every Voice: Marian Anderson, Florence B. Price and the Sound of Black Sisterhood" in in Turning the Tables: 8 Women Who Invented American Popular Music, National Public Radio, 30 August 2019.

Kurin, Richard. The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

Wald, Gayle. "Fashion, Statement: The Legacy of Marian Anderson's Fur Coat" in Turning the Tables: 8 Women Who Invented American Popular Music, National Public Radio, 28 August 2019.