Marian Anderson House

Brick front view of Marian Anderson House
Brick front view of Marian Anderson House

Photograph by Christine Miller Cruiess, courtesy of Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
762 S Martin Street, Philadelphia, PA
: Civil Rights, African American History, Performing Arts
Listed in the National Register – Reference number 11000198

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits

The Marian Anderson House is significant for its association with Marian Anderson, a civil rights icon and an African American contralto, who had a ground-breaking career in classical music from the mid-1920s through the late 1950s. The Marian Anderson House was purchased by her mother, Anna, in 1924 in part with money from Anderson's fledgling career as a musician. Anderson continued to make the family home her primary residence and office even as she toured increasingly across the country and internationally. During her residence here, her reputation as a performer became solidified and a number of the most important highlights of career took place, including performances at the White House and the concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC (1939). Following Anderson's marriage in 1943, she moved to Connecticut but continued to own the Philadelphia house still occupied by her mother and sister until their deaths, selling it in 1990.  

While Marian Anderson was not the first African-American concert singer in the United States, her success and worldwide popularity superseded any of her predecessors. At the turn of the twentieth century very few opportunities existed for aspiring African-American concert musicians; they were barred from participating in symphony orchestras and opera companies, and were admitted to only a few of the music schools and conservatories across the nation. Marian was denied admittance to a music school in Philadelphia based solely on the color of her skin. African-American churches and colleges were prominent supporters, both emotionally and financially, to young African-American musicians, as was the case with Marian Anderson. Many found it easier to complete studies in Europe, where there was less racial discrimination and more opportunities to grow. Following other musicians before her, Marian took advantage of the opportunities abroad. From late October 1927 through 1935, Marian spent much of her time in Europe. 

In December of 1935 she returned to the United States. The same year, she impressed manager, Sol Hurok, an acclaimed impresario and concert-management giant, and was offered a contract. She returned again to Europe in the winter of 1936, toured South America in 1937 and 1938. She also toured extensively throughout the United States during this period, and continued to use the house in Philadelphia as her base. Returning to the United States with European credentials bolstered Marian's American career extensively. In February 1936, she performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Roosevelt. The performance in the Monroe room of the White House was the beginning of a friendship between Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt that would continue for many years. Glowing reviews from, and friendship with, the First Lady led to greater fame and national recognition. 

One of the most defining moments in Marian's career as an African-American musician and inherently as a symbol of the civil rights movement, took place in 1939 when her manager, Hurok, attempted to book her for a performance at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC through Howard University. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), proprietors of Constitution Hall, refused to schedule Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall on any of the dates Hurok requested, even though the same dates were open to white performers. Ultimately as a result of this overt racial discrimination, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR, resulting in a media frenzy. In lieu of a performance at Constitution Hall, Mrs. Roosevelt and the Department of the Interior organized an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. More than 75,000 people were in attendance at this performance, with millions more listening via radio.

The close friendship between Marian Anderson and the First Lady continued. She was once again invited to perform at the White House in June 1939 for the King and Queen of England. One month later, Mrs. Roosevelt presented Marian with the Spingarn Medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. By 1941, Marian was among the top ten highest paid concert artists in the United States. Marian's career continued to thrive throughout the 1950s. The highlights during this period include her return to Europe for a tour in 1949, her television premier on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952, and her invitation to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1955, becoming the first African-American artist to sing with the Met. In 1957, she performed at Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential inauguration and was a good-will ambassador of the United States Department of State on a tour in Asia. Eisenhower then appointed Marian as an alternate delegate of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Marian sang at her second presidential inauguration in 1961 for John F.  Kennedy.

Her immeasurable talent and drive to succeed, coupled with strong support from her Philadelphia community allowed Marian to break through many of the racial barriers faced by aspiring musicians to become an influential and inspiring personality in both concert performance and the civil rights movement; the support she found at her home at 762 Martin Street played a pivotal role in her success.

Last updated: December 13, 2022