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Remembering Marian Anderson

anderson400Marian Anderson was a world-famous African-American contralto who performed in concerts between 1925 and 1965. One of her fans was Basil Rathbone. Twice in 1939, she appeared with him on the radio show The Circle (February 14 and March 12).

In spite of her fame, Anderson had to deal with prejudice and discrimination as she toured the USA. She was often refused service in hotels and restaurants because she was African American. One such example of discrimination occurred in 1939, when Marian Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, tried to arrange a concert for her at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. The owners of the hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), refused permission for Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall because they had a policy of allowing only white performers.

In response to this act of discrimination by the DAR, Basil Rathbone sent a telegram to Sol Hurok. It reads:shradiopic9

“As a resident alien I have no voice but as an artist I keenly protest the discrimination shown against Miss Marion Anderson one of the greatest artists of our or any other time. It was my privilege to appear on the same stage with Miss Anderson two weeks ago and it will be my pleasure to do so again on March 12th.
Basil Rathbone.”

The telegram is dated 28 February 1939, and can be found in the Marian Anderson Collection, housed in the Otto E. Albrecht Music Library of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

telegram from Basil Rathbone to Sol Hurok

telegram from Basil Rathbone to Sol Hurok

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt responded to the DAR’s action by resigning from the D.A.R. Roosevelt then arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a free concert given on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. Anderson sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.


This event served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, and Anderson became a symbol for breaking barriers for black artists. Notably, she became the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955.

After the 1939 event, the DAR recognized the need to change their policy, and today practices a non-discrimination policy. (For more info, see


Eleanor Roosevelt presenting Marian Anderson with the 1939 Spingarn medal for distinguished achievement



  1. Judy D. says

    Wonderful to find out this about Basil. Yes, we can love him even more now! However, the DAR’s hatefulness was still evident in the mid-1950s. CBS radio/TV star Arthur Godfrey had a “family” of entertainers who at that time included many ethnic minorities, from Hawaiian to Native American to black. (Did you know the McGuire Sisters claimed to be part Cherokee??) He and the cast were apparently supposed to appear in Washington, DC, probably at the Lincoln Memorial. The DAR objected by letter to his bringing The Mariners, two white and two black men who had met and become a quartet in the US Coast Guard. (I.e., defending our country!) According to the press, Godfrey read the DAR’s letter on the air and then gave his reply in one word, or sound, known in those days as a “raspberry.” I never read any further notice of whether he pulled his entire cast out of the engagement or The Mariners were allowed to perform. Godfrey also had the fabulous Mahalia Jackson on one of his TV shows, quite a revelation for white 1950s America, I am sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Campbell says

    Thank you! Makes me love the man even more (is that possible?). He was right: Marion Anderson was/is Miraculous.

    Great Work, you.

    Liked by 2 people

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