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
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.
On February 14th, Swann Galleries in New York City is holding another auction of African American Fine Art – this blog reported on a similar auction at Swann Galleries last October 18th. Beautiful artworks by many Rosenwald fellows are up for auction, including Charles Alston, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, William Edouard Scott, Charles White and Hale Woodruff. Prints, lithographs and sculptures by a Rosenwald fellow who died last year, Elizabeth Catlett, are prominently featured, including an excellent print of her famous Sharecropper.
Augusta Savage, who received three consecutive Rosenwald fellowships, created a monumental sculpture for the 1939 New York World’s Fair entitled “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” While the original sculpture was destroyed, lot 24 of this auction is a smaller version of the sculpture that was offered at the World’s Fair, a haunting memento of the great lost work.
By Michael Rose
Today, November 30th, would have been the 100th birthday of the great photographer and 1942 Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks. We posted about a centennial exhibition of his work at Manhattan’s Schomburg Center in July of this year. Today’s Lens blog on The New York Times website has an excellent article by Parks scholar Deborah Willis regarding a lesser known part of Parks’ career, his fashion photography.
In the early 1960s, I sat in my mother’s beauty shop in North Philadelphia reading Life magazine and discovered the photographs of Gordon Parks. I wasn’t even a teenager, yet I still remember vividly the effect those photo essays had on my life: over the course of the next decade I read his autobiography, “A Choice of Weapons,” and devoured almost all of his stories in Life.
Side view of the Schomburg Center, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, Harlem, New York
Photo credit: Michael Rose, July 20, 2012
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in New York City, is showing a collection of works by the great African American photographer Gordon Parks, who passed away in 2006. The exhibition is in commemoration of what would have been Parks 100th birthday, and will be on display until the end of the year. It was advertised in the Arts section of last week’s New York Times.
Gordon Parks in the FSA office
Photo credit: Library of Congress, ca. 1943
The exhibit focuses on Parks’ work in the 1940s with the Farm Security Administration. Parks joined the FSA after being awarded a Rosenwald Fund grant in 1942, which he received on the strength of his photographs of Chicago’s South Side. The current exhibit displays some similar black and white portraits and street scenes of black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. and Harlem that he took in the early 1940s for the FSA and the Office of War Information. In addition to those included in this blog, hundreds of Parks’s photographs are available online at the Library of Congress. A documentary about Parks’ career entitled Half Past Autumn is also part of the exhibit and will screen at least once more at the Schomburg Center, this August.
“Anacostia, D.C. Frederick Douglass housing project. Playing in the community sprayer ”
Photo credit: Gordon Parks, 1942, Office of War Information, LOC
“New York, New York. A Harlem newsboy”
Photo Credit: Gordon Parks, 1943, Office of War Information, LOC
The Schomburg Center is located just half a block from the famous Harlem YMCA. This towering mid-block building was funded in part by a Rosenwald “challenge grant,” and is probably the largest structure built as part of Rosenwald’s YMCA campaign. Parks, like many other new arrivals to Harlem, stayed at the YMCA for some time when he was new to the city. When I visited the gallery, 135th Street was crowded with the 2012 Harlem Book Fair.
Schomburg Center foreground, Harlem Rosenwald YMCA background
Photo credit: Michael Rose, July 20, 2012
By Michael Rose