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Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey: The First Comprehensive Biography Hardcover – February 22, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Marian Anderson 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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (February 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684807114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684807119
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,618,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By klavierspiel VINE VOICE on November 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Allan Keiler's biography of the great African-American contralto Marian Anderson is meticulously researched and detailed. Having exhaustively consulted contemporary sources neglected by other researchers, such as black newspapers, and personally interviewed many people, including the singer herself, Keiler sheds new light on the familiar story of Anderson's life and career.
Of particular interest is his detailed chronology of the famous events of 1939 that began with the refusal of the Daughters of the American Revolution to allow Anderson to give a concert in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., and ended with her outdoor concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a performance that propelled the singer to iconic status in the civil rights movement. His recounting of this and subsequent events, including her eventual success in obtaining a performance in Constitution Hall years later, reveals Anderson to have been surprisingly hesitant and passive in combatting segregation, and by no means unequivocally in favor of some of the bolder, more confrontational moves of her supporters.
Likewise, Keiler probes her personal relationships, something Anderson was reticent about in her own autobiography, and reveals a human being with faults and frailties, one who could be dictatorial and impatient toward members of her family, and aloof and uncommunicative when terminating relationships with lovers and artistic collaborators (notably Billy King, her first regular accompanist, who never recovered from the pain of being replaced by Kosti Vehanen). In no way do these revelations detract from Anderson's accomplishments as a musician; rather, they form a touching picture of the real sacrifices she had to make in the service of her talent.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Though Mr. Keiler does a tremendous job of putting Ms. Anderson's life on paper, at the end I still felt I did not know her. I don't know if it was because he had the cooperation of her family and was overly cautious, or if she is just a personality to complicated to really get to know. Anyway, a great read, but just left me wanting to know more.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In 1939 world-class contralto Marian Anderson was barred -- because of her race -- from performing an Easter concert in Washington's Constitution Hall when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to rent her the space.
Instead, supported by the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial. In so doing she brought attention to both her magnificent voice and the reality of segregation in the capital.
This absorbing authorized biography puts Anderson's career before her skin color, but Brandeis University music professor Keiler, who interviewed the singer shortly before her death in 1993 at age 96, carefully documents both her musical evolution and civic triumphs.
Though clearly awed by the stately vocalist who dressed in white satin, Keiler celebrates the humanitarian who served as a U.N. delegate, funded scholarships for black youth (both Jessye Norman and Leontyne Price auditioned for one but lost), mastered works by Brahms, Schubert and Sibelius and became the first African-American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.
An important read of a voice which sang so true.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By anthrodynamics on March 18, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book tells the story of Marian Anderson's life and her commitment to music. The writing is a little dry, but is a
historical account of her life and struggles during a difficult time for Black people in America. In reading the book, you get a real
respect for Ms. Anderson and all she accomplished. I just wish the author had given more of a glimpse of how Ms.
Anderson felt about things. I feel that after reading this book, I know of her accomplishments, but still do not know HER,
I don't know if it's a result of Ms. Anderson keeping her feelings and thoughts to herself and communicating through
her music, or if the author was uncomfortable dealing with feelings. I belong to a non-fiction book club, and we always read
something appropriate for Black History month. This book was a very good selection. A basic knowledge of classical music
is a help because there are many references to the classical pieces she performed.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William Bond on January 8, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
excellent thanks
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