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Marian Anderson rehearsing with Leonard Bernstein in 1947.

Library of Congress

One of the most memorable performances in White House history was Marian Anderson’s rendition of Schubert’s "Ave Maria" as the culmination of a gala "Evening of American Music" presented by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939. The entertainment was planned for a state visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. Anderson’s powerful voice soared that evening. Arturo Toscanini once remarked that Anderson was a talent that "comes once in a hundred years." Anderson had performed "Ave Maria" just a few months earlier as the climax to an outdoor concert that moved to tears the audience of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial. That concert was arranged on the Mall because the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her a singing engagement at Constitution Hall because she was black. Mrs. Roosevelt immediately resigned from the DAR and invited Anderson to sing for the British royals despite bitter criticism from segregationists.

Footnotes & Resources

Read More: Elise Kirk, "Black Performers: A Picture History," American Visions, February-March, 1995, 22-25; Elise Kirk, Musical Highlights from the White House, Krieger, 1992.