is often perceived more as a civil rights legend than a singer. In this first complete biography, Allan Keiler, a music professor at Brandeis University, gives his primary allegiance to Anderson the artist. In the first decades of the 20th century, a time when black classical musicians were rare, she rose from a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia to a level of supreme accomplishment. Although she came to be identified with spirituals, she resisted being pegged as a black singer and emphasized her mastery of the European art song.
Virtually all of Anderson's career took place on the concert stage; opera was even harder to break into. She was in her late 50s when she became the first black singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera. In any period, though, opera would not have suited her personality. She preferred the intimate engagement she could achieve with a song and a single accompanist.
Anderson's most indelible moment came in 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her the use of its segregated Constitution Hall in Washington. In response, her supporters organized a huge concert at the Lincoln Memorial, an emotional event that propelled her to iconic status. But Anderson was neither outspoken nor comfortable in the political limelight. After World War II, she was criticized for not refusing to perform in the segregated South. In the last decades of her long life (she died at 96, in 1993), she was revered as a symbol of humanitarianism and restrained dignity--a quality that made her seem remote to younger, more impatient generations.
Keiler is a methodical rather than inspired writer. His prose can be flat-footed, and his chronology is often murky. But he successfully evokes what made Anderson's singing unique: the "opulent" tone and the interpretive ability that cut to the heart of a varied repertoire embracing spirituals, folk songs, and pieces by Schubert, Brahms, Handel, Sibelius, Purcell, and de Falla. And his sympathetic portrait transforms her from a civics lesson into a woman of her time, one who believed the most valuable contribution she could make to a better world was to offer it her gift. --David Olivenbaum
From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on newspaper articles, interviews with the singer and her family, personal papers and letters, and Anderson's 1956 autobiography (My Lord, What a Morning), Keiler, a professor of music at Brandeis, traces the extraordinary life of a gifted singer who became a national symbol. He writes of the racism Anderson encountered as an African-American in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, from the voice teachers in Philadelphia who refused to teach her to the Daughters of the American Revolution's now-legendary decision to bar her from singing at Constitution Hall. Amid such events, however, Keiler concentrates mainly on Anderson's musicianship and career, presenting a convincing picture of a singer who was more troubled by questions of interpretation in German lieder than by the segregation of concert facilities in the South. Keiler's analysis of Anderson's musical training, repertoire, choices of accompanists and publicists, touring schedules and other professional difficulties will be of interest to readers with musical backgrounds. His clear, succinct prose, initially lacking narrative coherence, gains strength and momentum as his subject matures from a young and struggling artist into one of the enduring voices of our century. (Feb.)
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