Marian Anderson in Europe

Posted March 15th, 2013 by

Not only was singer Marian Anderson one of the most deserving of the Rosenwald Fund’s grant recipients, the story behind her fellowship is a fascinating and moving one. As was the practice with most of the Fund’s fellowships for artists and intellectuals, Anderson was already an accomplished singer when she received the grant. According to Anderson’s autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, in 1930 she embarked on a national tour of the U.S.A., but was disappointed with the number of dates she had been able to schedule. Although she admits it was not a bad tour “for a young artist,” she felt she had been around “long enough not to be considered a newcomer” and she had the unpleasant sensation that her career was “standing still.”


Marian Anderson, photographed by Gordon Parks in 1943
Photo source: Farm Security Administration via Library of Congress

As Anderson explains in her frank yet intimate prose, she was already thinking about traveling to Europe when, after a performance in a Chicago high school auditorium, two representatives from the Rosenwald Fund (Ray Field and George Arthur) approached her and urged her to apply for a Rosenwald fellowship to travel overseas. True to their word, Field and Arthur fast-tracked Anderson’s application, and in an unusual arrangement, allowed her to take just the first half of the grant in 1930 for a six month trip. Three years late, in 1933, she would accept the remainder of the grant money for another six month journey in Europe.

Under the Rosenwald fellowship, Anderson traveled first to Berlin, where she honed her German language skills while boarding with a friendly German couple and performing at various Berlin venues. From Germany, she went on to Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. She was initially met with curiosity by the cool Scandinavian people, who were naively unaccustomed to black singers, but she won them over before long with her grace and the beauty of her voice. When she returned in 1933 to Scandinavia, her popularity had grown to immense proportions. She was greeted warmly by the people and ended up staying in Europe well beyond the six months she had planned. Audiences were especially gracious in Sweden, where people packed her concerts and wrote her personal fan letters. The Swedish newspapers dubbed the enthusiastic reaction “Marian Fever.”

Success in Europe led finally to her long-delayed success in the U.S. It was during her second Rosenwald-funded trip to Europe that the famous impresario Sol Hurok happened to hear her sing while in Paris and immediately signed her to a contract for 15 appearances in the U.S., including a 1936 concert that Hurok would finance at Carnegie Hall.


Marian Anderson singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: National Archives

Marian Anderson is perhaps still best known for her iconic and inspirational performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after having been turned away from other venues by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the District of Columbia Board of Education. Despite her talent, Anderson’s career was slow to gather momentum in the U.S. due to racial discrimination, and she was fortunate to have the opportunity provided by the Rosenwald Fund to follow her calling in Europe.

By Michael Rose

Exhibition at NYC Gallery featuring Rosenwald fellows to finish run on Saturday

Posted March 6th, 2013 by

INsite/INchelsea,” a modern art exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in Manhattan, closes its nearly 3 month run this Saturday, March 9th. The show features work by 5 of the most prominent artists to receive Rosenwald fellowships: Eldzier Cortor, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage and Charles White. Incidentally–and interestingly–the Rosenfeld Gallery’s selections from these artists displays what their art looked like before they received their Rosenwald grants.

For example, take a look at Cortor’s 1938 “Rooftops on Wabash,” a painting of Chicago rowhomes framed through a second story apartment window. With the help of the Rosenwald Fund in the mid-1940s, Cortor went on to develop his artistic practice outside of this kind of urban space (traveling to South Carolina and, later, the Caribbean) but it’s fascinating to see this earlier stage in his career. Likewise, you’ll see Jacob Lawrence’s 1937 “Christmas in Harlem,” which displays some of the same style he would perfect in his acclaimed “Great Migration” series, completed with the help of consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1940, 1941 and 1942. From Charles White, the gallery offers a 1936 oil portrait, a piece that’s markedly different from the epic, historical murals and prints he would create later in his career, after his consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1942 and 1943.


Young Augusta Savage at work
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Finally, be sure to see Augusta Savage‘s famed “Gamin” (1929), a beautiful piece that put the great sculptor on the map and earned her 3 Rosenwald grants to study art in Europe in 1929, 1930 and 1931. Because these works of art were likely the ones that initially drew the attention of the Rosenwald Fund grant administrators, viewing them can give you a glimpse into the Fund’s working process. If you are in the area, take the time to visit the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery before the exhibit closes.

By Michael Rose

New Gordon Parks show in Washington D.C.

Posted March 5th, 2013 by

Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks’ photography has been the subject of a series of exhibitions recently, in the wake of what would have been his 100th birthday on November 30th, 2012. We blogged about a Gordon Parks show at the Schomburg Center in Manhattan last July, and now another collection of his photography will be on display at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, D.C. between March 23rd and May 11th. An opening reception will be held on the 23rd from 6 to 8 PM. Click here for the press release on the Adamson Gallery’s website.