Monday, April 07, 2008

Review: Marian Anderson

A Voice Uplifted by Victoria Garrett Jones. Sterling Publishing Co., 2008. (advanced review copy) This volume from the Sterling Biography series focuses on the life of Marian Anderson. She was born in Philadelphia in 1897 to working class parents and died in 1993 in a family home in Portland, Oregon. She rose to international fame on the power of her remarkable voice, her hard work and her dedication to her art.

She began singing in church choirs as a child and was performing for paying audiences in her teens. Although she suffered from discrimination and racism all of her life she never let it limit her achievements. She studied under a variety of gifted teachers, traveled around the world and worked with highly talented accompanying musicians of all ethnicities. She was the first African American to record spirituals with a major American record company and the first to sing for the Metropolitan Opera of New York. In 1939 when the DAR refused to allow her to sing in their Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. she sang outside on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000. She was often denied seating in restaurants, rooms in fine hotels and first class traveling accommodations because of the color of her skin, but she won the highest accolades for performing before kings and presidents around the world over a life-time career.

I like how Jones emphasises Marian's insistence on perfecting her technique through hard study, including living in Germany for a while in her twenties to learn the language so she could sing German lieder properly. I also admire Ms. Anderson's ability to focus positively on her music while allowing allies (including Eleanor Roosevelt) to champion her causes and combat the racism that would hold her back. This book shows Marian's monumental talent as well as the overwhelming challenges she faced.

This clearly written biography is complemented with a wealth of photos of Marian, her family and her colleagues. Numerous sidebars and focus articles give context and explain background information on topics such as Jim Crow laws, Northern Migration, Black Jews, Voice types, Spirituals, German Lieder, Arturo Toscanini, Daughters of the American Revolution and The Metropolitan Opera. A time line of her life is included in the beginning of the book and a glossary, bibliography and index are at the end.

I found it to be a fascinating read, very clearly and compellingly stated. Recommended for grades four through eight. Check out other biographies in the series here at Sterling Biographies.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

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