How Classical Music Advanced the Civil Rights Movement

Remembering Marian Anderson's landmark Met performance, 60 years later

Marian Anderson Acting On Stage
Marian Anderson acting on stage during the Metropolitan Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera, New York City, January 8, 1955. Afro Newspaper—Gado/Getty Images

Anderson, fittingly, had a habit of rhetorically erasing her own significance by referring to herself as “one” — and she didn’t behave like the typical prima donna in her debut at the Met:
“I’m not quite sure it’s happening,” Contralto Anderson told friends and reporters [after the performance]. Apologizing for her jitters, she added: “A serious person, when beginning anything, is usually a little overanxious.” … As for the possibility of other roles at the Met, she said in her modest, impersonal way: “One is so involved in this one, no other has been thought about.”
Meanwhile, out in the packed house, it was the crowd that lifted the singer to hero status: “There were eight curtain calls. ‘Anderson! Anderson!’ chanted the standees,” TIME reported, “and men and women in the audience wept.”

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