The great contralto Marian Anderson, whose 1939 performance at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday galvanized the conscience of a nation, died yesterday morning in Portland, Ore., of congestive heart failure. She was 96.
Miss Anderson became a symbol of the fight against racial bigotry when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington. That led first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign from the organization. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Department of the Interior invited Miss Anderson to give a public recital at the Lincoln Memorial. More than 75,000 people attended.
The singer again broke racial barriers in 1955, when she became the first black to perform at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
The daughter of middle-class parents in Philadelphia, she began singing professionally at age 12 to help make ends meet after her father died. By the early 1920s, she had won two of the country's most important vocal competitions -- those of the Philadelphia and the New York Philharmonic orchestras.
Singing expertly in nine languages, she was considered a
nonpareil interpreter of Bach, Handel and Schubert, as well as of spirituals. Her voice and its fluid range prompted conductor Arturo Toscanini to proclaim: "Yours is a voice one hears once in 100 years."