Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal R

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal R

Russell Freedman
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2004   ISBN: 978-0618159765

From the time when she was a very little girl Marian Anderson loved to sing, and because she sang beautifully and because her voice had a wide range, she was soon a valued member of her church choir. In fact it was not long before Marian was being asked to sing songs at local events. When she was only ten she was invited to join the People’s Chorus, a choir made up of the best voices of all the black church choirs in Philadelphia.

As she grew older she joined the senior choir in her church and performed more, charging more for her appearances. She had to leave school because her family could not afford for her to go to high school but her dream of having a singing career did not fade. In fact it got stronger.

Then Marian met the talented tenor singer Roland Hayes. He admired Marian a great deal and told her that she should pursue her dream, but if she wanted to make a go of it she would need further education in music. Marian’s church community promised her that they would find a way to pay for that education and a voice teacher was found for her, the first of many.

Marian now began to sing arias from operas and classical songs. Her voice matured and she sang in German, French and other languages. She now had an accompanist and traveled around the country. But she knew there was room for improvement and a less than successful performance at the New York’s Town Hall convinced her that she should go to Europe for further instruction.

Marian spent much of the next eight years in Europe and in that time she not only became skilled at singing in foreign languages, but she also became a famous star who had performed for royalty and heads of state. When she got back to the United States in 1935 she once again had to deal with the same problems that she had faced before she had left. She was still a victim of racism and prejudice. Now however she was famous and it was harder for people to treat her badly. When the Daughters of the American Republic (the DAR) refused to allow Marian to perform in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. there was a public outcry.

People all over the country were incensed that someone of Marian Anderson’s stature should be denied the use of the hall because of her skin color. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in protest and with her help Marian’s friends and supporters arranged for her to give a free concert from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The concert would have a profound effect on the hearts and minds of thousands of people all over the country and it was the beginning of Marian’s work, through her music, to fight for the freedom of her people.

This superbly written book not only tells the story of Marian Anderson’s life but it also shows readers the unique relationship that Marian had with music and the courage and beauty of her proud spirit. The book is full of quotes from her own writings and interviews, and excellent black and white photographs showing key events and personalities in her life. Readers are given a portrait of a graceful and supremely gifted woman who overcame enormous difficulties to show the world that a person of color could indeed be a star and an advocate for her people.