The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

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Overview

"A voice like yours," celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini told contralto Marian Anderson, "is heard once in a hundred years." This insightful account of the great African American vocalist considers her life and musical career in the context of the history of civil rights in this country. Drawing on Anderson's own writings and other contemporary accounts, Russell Freedman shows readers a singer pursuing her art despite the social constraints that limited the careers of black performers in the 1920s and 1930s. Though not a crusader or a

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Overview

"A voice like yours," celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini told contralto Marian Anderson, "is heard once in a hundred years." This insightful account of the great African American vocalist considers her life and musical career in the context of the history of civil rights in this country. Drawing on Anderson's own writings and other contemporary accounts, Russell Freedman shows readers a singer pursuing her art despite the social constraints that limited the careers of black performers in the 1920s and 1930s. Though not a crusader or a spokesperson by nature, Marian Anderson came to stand for all black artists—and for all Americans of color—when, with the help of such prominent figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, she gave her landmark 1939 performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which signaled the end of segregation in the arts. Carefully researched, expertly told, and profusely illustrated with contemporary photographs, this Newbery Honor and Sibert Medal-winning book is a moving account of the life of a talented and determined artist who left her mark on musical and social history. Through her story, Newbery Medal-winning author Russell Freedman, one of today's leading authors of nonfiction for young readers, illuminates the social and political climate of the day and an important chapter in American history. Notes, bibliography, discography, index.

A 2005 Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the 2005 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"a fully realized portrait of a musical artist and her times...an outstanding, handsome biography. Freedman at his best." KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred reviews Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Freedman provides thrilling accounts...copious quotes...allow her resonant voice—and personal grace—to fill these pages...An engrossing biography." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review Publishers Weekly, Starred

"This inspiting work once again demonstrates Freedman's talent for showing how a person's life is molded by its historical and cultural context." SLJ School Library Journal, Starred

"In his signature prose, plain yet eloquent. Freedman tells Anderson's triumphant story . . . Older readers and adults will want this too." BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA

"Freedman offers the story of a movement encapsulated in the biography of an extraordinary African-American woman." BCCB Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"a masterful biography...The prose is sharp and clean with generous use of quotations...a superb choice." VOYA VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

Publishers Weekly
Newbery medalist Freedman (Lincoln: A Photobiography) succinctly traces the career of renowned contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993) from her Philadelphia childhood, when she first revealed her extraordinary voice in church choirs. Throughout, the author describes the racial discrimination Anderson frequently encountered as an African-American artist, as well as her role in the struggle for civil rights, a role defined by her dignified yet determined response to racism. The gifted singer felt the sting of discrimination as a teen, when she tried to apply to a music conservatory and was told, "We don't take colored." Later, as she and her accompanist toured America, they were barred from hotels and restaurants and relegated to the Jim Crow cars of trains. Freedman provides thrilling accounts of Anderson's success and soaring reputation in Europe, where she performed for royalty, often singing in the native language of her audiences and eliciting the highest praise from maestro Arturo Toscanini, who told Anderson hers was a voice "heard once in a hundred years." Perhaps most poignant is Freedman's re-creation of Anderson's 1939 performance before 75,000 fans at the Lincoln Memorial, a concert precipitated by the DAR's refusal to allow a black singer to appear at its Constitutional Hall and accomplished largely through the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt. Copious quotes from Anderson's autobiography, papers and interviews allow her resonant voice-and personal grace-to animate these pages. Also included are abundant photos, newspaper clippings and reproductions of concert programs. An engrossing biography. Ages 9-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This beautiful biography is about one of the nation's greatest African American vocalist—Marian Anderson. Although she was from a poor family, Marian says she never felt poor or different from the other diverse individuals who lived in her neighborhood; the children played together every day just having fun and not thinking about differences. This biography contains photographs from all phases of her life and of people and incidents that played an important part in her success as both a singer and a person. Under the title of each chapter is a quotation made either by Marian or by an individual who was touched by her. In chapter seven, "Breaking Barriers," is the quotation that I believe explains Marian Anderson. "The essential point about wanting to appear in Constitution Hall was that I wanted to do so because I felt I had that right as an artist." Such an intelligent individual. Freedman has captured the person and the history. The reader wants to learn more. He thoughtfully included six pages of chapter notes and several pages of "Selected Discography." On the back cover of the book is a quote by Jessye Norman, an opera and concert singer, that is a perfect ending to a perfectly written biography. "She wore the glorious crown of her voice with the grace of an empress and changed the lives of many through the subtle force of her spirit and demeanor. If the planet Earth could sing, I think it would sound something like Marian Anderson." You must own this book. 2004, Houghton Mifflin, Ages 12 up.
—Kathie M. Josephs
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-In the initial chapter, Freedman movingly and dramatically sets the stage for the performer's historic 1939 Easter concert at the Lincoln Memorial. In less than two pages, he captures the huge crowd's eager anticipation, briefly describes the controversy sparked by the Daughters of the American Revolution's refusal to allow Anderson to appear at Constitution Hall, and mentions the significance of the concert. He leaves readers at the moment when "A profound hush settled over the crowd.- she closed her eyes, lifted her head, clasped her hands before her, and began to sing." The author then switches to a chronological account of Anderson's life from her childhood in Philadelphia through her acclaimed U.S. and European concert tours in the 1920s and 1930s. He then gives a fuller account of the famous outdoor concert, which he refers to as a milestone in both musical and civil rights history. Freedman acknowledges that the singer did not set out to be a political activist or a crusader for civil rights. Numerous archival photographs, thorough chapter notes, a selected bibliography of works for both adult and younger readers, and a selected discography of currently available Anderson CDs are included. This inspiring work once again demonstrates Freedman's talent for showing how a person's life is molded by its historical and cultural context. Readers of Pam Munoz Ryan's When Marian Sang (Scholastic, 2002) will appreciate this lengthier account of Anderson's life, as will all readers of biography, U.S. history, and musical history.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
She had played the major cities in Europe, appeared before filled-to-capacity halls throughout the US, and been welcomed at the White House, but famous contralto Marian Anderson was turned down by Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The Daughters of the American Revolution, headquartered there, stood by their "white artists only" policy and wouldn't let her perform. But officials at Howard University, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others who believed in equal rights teamed up to organize a free public performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter Sunday, 1939, Anderson performed before 75,000 people and a national radio audience in an event that sent "a powerful message of defiance against the injustice of bigotry and racial discrimination." Anderson never saw herself as an activist, though, and Freedman never treats her as a symbol. He offers instead a fully realized portrait of a musical artist and her times. Well-chosen, well-placed archival photographs, clear writing, abundant research seamlessly woven into the text, and careful documentation make an outstanding, handsome biography. Freedman at his best. (chapter notes, bibliography, discography, acknowledgments, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 9+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547480343
  • Publisher: Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/3/2011
  • Pages: 114
  • Sales rank: 224,445
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, the Sibert Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Mr. Freedman lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

1 Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 1
2 Twenty-five Cents a Song 5
3 A Voice in a Thousand 21
4 Marian Fever 33
5 Banned by the DAR 47
6 Singing to the Nation 59
7 Breaking Barriers 71
8 "What I Had Was Singing" 91
Chapter Notes 95
Selected Bibliography 101
Selected Discography 105
Acknowledgments and Picture Credits 107
Index 109
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 28, 2012

    A Beautiful Voice That Broke Barriers This complete biography o

    A Beautiful Voice That Broke Barriers

    This complete biography of Marian Anderson is extremely insightful into her life and musical career as an acclaimed African-American female vocalist. The biography paints a very detailed and balanced portrait of this amazing contralto opera singer who became a musical phenomenon during the civil rights era. It is evident that the author conducted extensive and "meticulous research to craft" this detailed biography. (Temple, Martinez, & Yokota, 2011, p. 376) The book also contains many high quality photographs throughout which complement the text and the specific times in Marian's life that are revealed. It really provides perspective on what life was like for Marian, including her hopes and fears, her goals and aspirations, and her amazing accomplishments. There are many of Marian's personal quotes included throughout the book which allow the reader to get to know what Marian was like and what her personality was. Overall, this well-written biography proves to be more that just an informational book, but also serves as an inspirational and enjoyable read.

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  • Posted September 30, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    "Let Freedom Sing"

    Russell Freedman demonstrates to his readers a singer pursuing her art despite the obvious racial limitations that limited the careers of black performers in the 1920's and 1930's. Though not a civil rights activist per say, Marian Anderson became a leader for all black artists and for all Americans of color when she gave her landmark 1939 performance of "Let Freedom Ring" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which most significantly changed the outcome of segregation in the arts.
    This story is a moving detailed account of the ever so talented Marian Anderson. and her poignant mark that she left in civil rights history. This inspiring story of determination and hope filled me with insight to what it must have felt to know you have this amazing gift and are not allowed to share it with your fellow man because of the social and racial restraints that are present in that time.
    The story is filled with dramatic photos and is told in such a intense way that I could not help but be transported back to such an unsettling time. This story will surely inspire the reader, and depict the feel of the racial and political climate of that era.
    Carefully researched, expertly told, and dramatically illustrated with contemporary photographs, here is a moving account of the life of a talented and determined artist who left her mark on musical and social history. The audience for this chapter book can be recommended for a fourth or fifth grader because it relays important historical events that are sure to encompass valuable history lessons, but it is most definitely better appreciated by at least an upper middle school-er and high school student.
    Through Marian Anderson's story I was enlightened as well as disheartened but in the end I was tremendously overjoyed. A true underdog story and I was thrilled with the ending. Definitely a chapter book meant to be on every educators shelf.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    excellent prospect

    I was unaware of the journey Marion Anderson faced. The book gives great details of this time era in a different perspective than normally told.
    She was a great artist and world respected except in her own country. But I believe she finally gained the respect of our country and it was well deserved. I loved the book and definetly recommend it for reading.

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    Posted October 8, 2012

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    Posted October 20, 2009

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