Arturo Toscanini said that Marian Anderson had a voice that came along "once in a hundred years." When one of her voice teachers first heard her sing, her obvious talent moved him to tears. But because she was black, Anderson's initial prospects as a concert singer in this country were quite limited, and she experienced most of her early professional triumphs in Europe. The magnitude of her musical gifts, however, ultimately won her recognition in the United States as well, and when she began touring in this country in 1935, audiences readily embraced her as the greatest contralto alive.
Though no civil rights activist, Anderson was the focus in 1939 of a highly publicized racial incident that began when the Daughters of the American Revolution decided to block her appearance at its Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The affair climaxed with Anderson's giving a concert at the Lincoln Memorial, an event that made her a potent symbol for many years to come in the struggle for greater racial tolerance.
Painted for the Harmon Foundation, which was founded to promote awareness of African American achievement, this portrait shows Anderson as she appeared at her Lincoln Memorial concert.