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
Elizabeth Catlett, a Rosenwald fellow who passed away earlier this year, serves as the inspiration and a subject of a pop-up exhibition at Washington D.C.’s Contemporary Wing gallery (1250 9th Street NW). Most of the works on display are very current, dealing with the recent Presidential election and the Arab Spring, but five of Catlett’s prints are included as well, some of which date to before Civil Rights. As Contemporary Wing explains on their website, “no treatment of political art today would be complete without acknowledging the recent passing of African American printmaker and sculptor, Elizabeth Catlett, whose famous images Sharecropper and Malcolm X Speaks for Us in the 1960s and 70s, among numerous others, underlie the history of a nation currently deciding whether to re-elect its first African American president.”
On this blog in April we described Catlett’s work under her 1946 and 1947 Rosenwald fellowships, which came at an extremely significant time in her career. The artworks on display at Contemporary Wing were the result of the printmaking phase of her career that she began in Mexico in the 1940s and continued for the rest of her life.
If you’re in the Washington D.C. area make sure to visit Contemporary Wing some time soon – the exhibit lasts only until November 24th. You can find more information on their website.
The great folk singer Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 this year, and the Kennedy Center is celebrating his centennial with a concert featuring a variety of artists like Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Tom Morello, Donovan and Roseanne Cash. Guthrie was a Rosenwald fellow and back in July we talked about the discovery of an unknown novel by him that may have been the product of his 1943 Rosenwald fellowship. We are still awaiting an answer from Douglas Brinkley, who is editing the book with Johnny Depp.
Tickets for the concert are officially sold out but they may be available secondhand. It should be a great show and a great tribute to Guthrie’s enormous legacy.
By Michael Rose
A set of six murals by the great African American artist Hale Woodruff are kicking off a tour of several cities at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Woodruff, one of the most celebrated American painters of the twentieth century, chose the slave rebellion on the Amistad as the subject for these murals which originally hung at Talladega College in Alabama. The recently restored murals were completed in 1938, five years before Woodruff received consecutive Rosenwald Fellowships to work and teach in New York, where he would stay until he retired decades later. After Atlanta, the murals will travel between now and 2015 to Dallas, New York, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Hartford, Detroit and finally Birmingham, so be on the lookout for them at a museum near you. Thanks to our neighbor, Robert Mallet, for letting us know about the exhibit in Atlanta.
Hale Woodruff working on a mural, 1942
Photo credit: Library of Congress via Office of War Information
By Michael Rose
A theatrical production of Ralph Ellison’s seminal 1952 novel, Invisible Man premieres tonight at the Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. Ellison began working on Invisible Man in 1945, with the resources provided to him by a Rosenwald Fellowship. This is the second staging of Oren Jacoby’s theatrical adaptation of the novel, which had never before been adapted in any form. The Studio Theatre’s show features the same director and star as the early 2012 premiere production at the Court Theater at the University of Chicago. Jessica Goldstein describes the most striking feature of the stage design in today’s Washington Post, the 650 light bulbs that light up the eponymous character’s underground dwelling. Information about the schedule and tickets can be found on the Studio Theatre’s website.
Ralph Ellison, 1961
United States Information Agency via Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons