Ave Maria is one of the world’s most recognisable songs. It was composed by Franz Schubert in 1825. It was composed as a setting of a song (verse XXIX from Canto Three) from Walter Scott’s popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake. I stumbled across Marian Anderson’s version (at the end of this post) by accident and it floored me. Apart from possessing a divine voice, she showed exquisite style and grace.
Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an American singer and one of the most celebrated of the 20th century. She performed opera arias, traditional American songs and spiritual. She was offered roles in many important European Opera companies, but she declined because she had no training in acting. She preferred to perform in concert and recital only.
According to wikipedia: In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the capital. She sang before an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.
She participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.
In the late 1930s, Anderson gave about 70 recitals a year in the United States. Although by then quite famous, her stature did not completely end the prejudice she confronted as a young black singer touring the United States. She was still denied rooms in certain American hotels and was not allowed to eat in certain American restaurants. Because of this discrimination, Albert Einstein, a champion of racial tolerance, hosted Anderson on many occasions, the first being in 1937 when she was denied a hotel before performing at Princeton University. She last stayed with him months before he died in 1955.
The description of Ave Maria below – the much-loved Schubert song comes from a short 1944 ‘Christmas Carols’ feature, filmed specially for American military personnel stationed overseas, in which Leopold Stokowski conducted the Westminster Choir and a small orchestral ensemble. The great African-American mezzo Marian Anderson had a solo spot in this film and here she is, sensitively accompanied by the great Maestro.