An Investigation into the Life of an Iconic Philadelphia Neighbor – Marian Anderson
By Emile Henwood

Author Emile Henwood pays tribute to the late singer in the new biography, “Remembering A Great American Hero Marian Anderson – The Lady from Philadelphia

She was one of the most significant Philadelphians of the 20th Century, and whose name was a household word throughout the country, that has almost been forgotten today – Marian Anderson.

Those few people who live their entire lives in a virtuous exemplary manner need to be remembered by future generations.  Fr. Butler’s “Lives of the Saints” is a good start, but it should not end there, nor with one Christian denomination.  Propriety, modesty, and gratitude were Anderson family traits passed on by Mrs. Anderson to Marian and her two sisters.  To that, Marian added humility anchored in faith and gratitude for her gifts.  Arrogance was inconceivable.  Marian Anderson never felt that her successes were hers alone, rather they were primarily God’s doing. The goal of this work is to enshrine the life lessons to be learned from this iconic trailblazing humanitarian, who overcame poverty, racial prejudices, and obstacles unimaginable today, with grace and dignity.

Marian Anderson’s historic open-air Lincoln Memorial Solo Concert took place on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939.  It is well documented by the mass media and in books by noted historians. Walter White, the head of the NAACP, was the true architect of this event. The president of Howard University was concerned about a potential Ku Klux Klan disruption as the Nation’s Capital had always been the KKK’s favorite rally destination. Many threats of violence and safety concerns caused Marian to call her manager, Sol Hurok, at midnight the night before the concert, wanting to cancel.

In a nutshell: Following three unsuccessful attempts over two years by Howard University, early in the year, Sol Hurok was also unsuccessful trying to book Constitution Hall for a Washington, DC, concert due to their “white performers only” policy, brought on by Jim Crow laws and Washington, DC’s, segregation customs. Constitution Hall was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Public outrage resulted. Eleanor Roosevelt and several hundred other DAR members resigned in protest. Ultimately, largely due to Eleanor Roosevelt’s influence, this led to Marian Anderson’s outdoor Easter Sunday solo concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of 75,000 people and millions on national radio. This was the largest crowd ever at that point on the National Mall since a smaller KKK rally fourteen years earlier. There was a very heavy police presence. Historians now recognize this peaceful protest event as the true beginning of the modern Civil Rights era.

What historians have overlooked about that event is that a bright and impressionable ten-year-old boy named Martin Luther King Jr. was in the audience, carefully listening. Twenty-four years later, in 1963, when he delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King quoted the lyrics from Marian’s entire opening song in 1939, “America” (“My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty” … etc.) on those same sacred steps, where he and his dear friend and mentor, Marian, made history again in 1963.

Circling back to April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the player who shattered racial barriers as he integrated baseball. Before he could swing a bat in the major leagues or even step onto the field, he had to be signed by someone who believed in equality, who believed that it wasn’t right for America’s sport to be divided by the color of its players’ skin. This man was Branch Rickey, an executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers who initiated the “noble experiment” of integration. Rickey’s search for “the right man” officially began in 1943 when the Dodgers’ management gave him the go-ahead. It wasn’t long after then when Rickey and Hurok (a Brooklyn native and Dodgers fan) discovered a common denominator, in what Sol Hurok had been building and learning as Marian Anderson’s manager since 1935, that served as a readymade springboard for Rickey’s noble experiment—using Hurok’s success managing Marian Anderson’s professional career as a stepping-stone for success in Sol Hurok’s new additional role as Jackie Robinson’s baseball agent. 

No doubt the close friendship and professional relationship between Hurok and Anderson was a major factor as they mentored Robinson, transforming his behavior from resentment of his persecutors to one of showing grace and dignity in the face of persecution; they quietly changed Jackie into the Marian Anderson of Sports.  The three remained close for the rest of their lives.

Those of us who remember Marian Anderson as simply a great singer, as I once did, are missing 90% of what this trailblazing humanitarian really accomplished. Few of her many biographers were able to focus on the entire ninety-six years of her entire life, so they mostly presented her from their particular academic, historical or musical points of view. This book is a condensed chronological compilation from several authors, historians and eyewitnesses connecting the dots between significant events throughout Marian Anderson's entire life to this day. By design, readers can complete this book in one or two sittings, hopefully stimulating further research and examples from her virtuous brave life, to pass on to future generations.

This short article is only a taste of the “Anderson Fairy Tale.”  The author realizes there are many “Baby Boomers” who had personal interactions with Marian Anderson that will be shared in a sequel.  Kindly contact him with your story on his blog via email at


About the Author

At the age of 73, Emile Henwood, a native Philadelphian, discovered Marian Anderson lived on the same South Philadelphia street as his Grandmother during the 1890s. The oldest of nine children himself with two sons and four grandchildren, his family is still astounded and amused he decided to become an author after a long business career. “Remembering a Great American Hero MARIAN ANDERSON – The Lady From Philadelphia” is availble for purchase through Amazon.


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