Point, Click, and Listen to the Magic of Marian Anderson

“A voice like that is heard only once in a hundred years,” Arturo Toscanini is reported to have said, and even through a desktop-computer speaker, that voice can make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up and salute. It belongs to the late Marian Anderson, Hon’58, and through the sorcery of the Internet, one simply has to point and click a few times to hear and see her singing — for example — “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial, where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had arranged for her to sing after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow an African American to perform at Constitution Hall.

On February 27, which would have been Anderson’s 100th birthday (she died in 1993), the University launched a multimedia Website devoted to her life and work.

There she can be heard singing Jean Sibelius’s “Var det en drom?” which was recorded in Paris in 1936 but never commercially released; Schubert’s “Liebesbotschaft”; and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Click again for photographs of Anderson visiting her old neighborhood in South Philadelphia, to hear Anderson discussing her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1955, and a good deal more.

“We hope that the Anderson on-line exhibition will be of use to teachers, as well as be of interest to the general public,” said Dr. Paul Mosher, Penn’s vice provost and director of libraries, who notes that the multimedia portions require either a high-speed connection or a “lot of patience under present Internet conditions.”

The library also announced that it was constructing a Marian Anderson Music Study Center and Exhibition Gallery on the fourth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. That project, scheduled to open in December, will, in the words of Mosher, “preserve the history of a great musical figure; it will help to keep her art alive; and it will nurture future generations of composers, performing artists, and scholars.”

Before she died in 1993, Anderson had placed her papers with the library, where they are housed in the Department of Special Collections. One of the papers is a previously unknown handwritten manuscript by Sibelius, who rewrote “Den Judiska Flickans” (“The Jewish Girl”) especially for Anderson. The Marian Anderson Archive is the primary source for scholarship on her life and career; its materials date from 1898 to 1991 and include correspondence, audiotaped interviews, recordings, annotated musical scores, clippings, programs, photographs, memorabilia — and more than 240 test recordings now being transferred to tape for preservation. “We do not know what is on many of these records,” says Marjorie Hassen, head of the music library. “It is certainly possible that we will find songs that were never commercially released.”

The center will have a large seminar facility dedicated to music study and research; a glass-walled classroom, designed for student needs; computer, multimedia, and microform workstations; working space for the head librarian of the music library; and a memorial exhibition area. In addition to fundraising efforts led by Anderson’s nephew and heir, James Anderson DePreist, W’58, ASC’61, Hon’76, the library received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a $50,000 gift from the Class of 1967.

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