One of the outstanding voices of the twentieth century, contralto Marian Anderson—like many African American artists of the time—first achieved success in Europe. Impresario Sol Hurok convinced her to return to America, and a triumphant 1935 concert secured her reputation. In 1939 she became embroiled in a historic event when the Daughters of the American Revolution banned her appearance at its Constitution Hall because she was black. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and facilitated Anderson’s Easter Sunday outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial—an event witnessed by 75,000 and broadcast to a radio audience of millions. In 1955 Anderson was invited to appear at the Metropolitan Opera (in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera), becoming the first African American to sing an important role with that company. In 1978 she received a Kennedy Center Honors award.
Commissioned by the Harmon Foundation, New York; gift 1967 to NPG.
The Harmon Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in New York City (active 1922–1967), included this portrait in their exhibition Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin, which opened at the Smithsonian in 1944 and documented noteworthy African Americans’ contributions to the country. Modeling their goal of social equality, the Harmon sought portraits from African American artist Laura Wheeler Waring and Euro-American artist Betsy Graves Reyneau. The two painters followed the conventional codes of academic portraiture, seeking to convey their sitters’ extraordinary accomplishments. This painting, along with a variety of educational materials, toured nation-wide for ten years, serving as a visual rebuttal to racism.
La Harmon Foundation, entidad filantrópica con sede en la ciudad de Nueva York (activa entre 1922 y 1967), incluyó este retrato en Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin (Retratos de estadounidenses destacados de origen negro), una exposición inaugurada en la Smithsonian en 1944 que documentó las aportaciones de afroamericanos notables al país. A tono con sus ideales de igualdad social, la fundación encargó retratos a la artista afroamericana Laura Wheeler Waring y a la euroamericana Betsy Graves Reyneau. Ambas adoptaron los códigos convencionales del retrato académico para comunicar en sus obras los logros extraordinarios de sus modelos. Esta pintura, junto con diversos materiales educativos, viajó por la nación durante diez años planteando una impugnación visual del racismo.