Marian Anderson 1897-1993

Marian Anderson était une contralto afro-américaine. Considérée comme l’une des meilleures contraltos de son temps. Elle est devenue la première Afro-américaine à se produire au New-York Metropolitan Opera en 1955.

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson est née à Philadelphie (Pennsylvanie) le 27 février 1897. Très jeune à l’Union Baptist Church, dans le chœur dirigé par son père, elle se fit remarquer par sa voix à l’éclat pur et naturel. Surnommée affectueusement le “bébé contralto”,  elle chantait en soliste les hymnes de la liturgie. Son registre étendu couvrait trois octaves et la réputation de la jeune chanteuse va vite dépasser l’enceinte de son église. Son père, un marchand de charbon et de glace, a soutenu les intérêts musicaux de sa fille et, quand elle eut huit ans, lui a acheté un piano. La famille n’ayant pas les moyens de payer les leçons de piano, la prodigieuse Anderson a appris à jouer par elle-même. À l’âge de 12 ans, son père décéda, laissant la mère élever ses trois filles encore jeunes. Sa mort, cependant, n’a pas ralenti les ambitions musicales de Marian. A la mort de son père, pour subvenir aux besoins de sa famille, elle dut se former au métier de secrétaire. Mais heureusement, elle fut remarquée par la soprano Mary Sanders Patterson qui lui donna gratuitement des cours de technique vocale. De plus, la chorale de son église a recueillit suffisamment d’argent, environ 500 $, pour lui offrir des cours de chant avec Giuseppe Boghetti, un professeur respecté. Au cours de ses deux années d’études avec Boghetti, Anderson gagna, lors d’un concours organisé par la New-York Philharmonic Society, la possibilité de chanter en public au Lewisohn Stadium de New-York. D’autres opportunités semblables suivirent rapidement. En 1928, elle se produisit au Carnegie Hall pour la première fois et entreprit finalement une tournée à travers l’Europe grâce à une bourse Julius Rosenwald.

Marian Anderson

En effet, sa voix de contralto et la richesse de son répertoire en opéra, negro spiritualLied et oratorio, avec des chefs parmi les plus renommés du XXème siècle lui ouvrirent les portes de la célébrité. Elle fit ses débuts européens à Berlin en 1930 et des tournées européennes très réussies en 1930-1932, 1933-1934 et 1934-1935. Elle obtint un triomphe lors d’un concert à l’hôtel de ville de New-York en décembre 1935. Elle fit ensuite une tournée en Amérique du Sud et en 1938-1939 puis une nouvelle tournée en Europe. En 1939, cependant, elle se heurta à l’impossibilité de se produite au Constitution Hall de Washington, la salle, réservée aux blancs, étant la propriété des Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). L’incident déclencha la protestation de nombreuses personnes, dont Eleanor Roosevelt, l’épouse du président des Etats-Unis qui, avec de nombreuses autres femmes éminentes, ont démissionné du DAR. C’est Eleanor Roosevelt qui l’invita alors à chanter devant le Lincoln Memorial, le dimanche de Pâques 1939. L’esplanade du Lincoln Mémorial était noire de monde. 75 000 personnes sont venues écouter Marian Anderson chanter sur les marches du mémorial dédié au Président Lincoln.  En ce dimanche de Pâques 1939, Marian ne savait pas si les notes allaient sortir de sa gorge. Elle n’avait jamais chanté devant une foule pareille, et surtout, elle sentit qu’il se passait quelque chose de bien plus important qu’un simple concert. Elle donna ce jour là une performance captivante qui fut diffusée en direct à des millions d’auditeurs.

Marian Anderson chantant devant 75 000 personnes au Potomak Park, Maison-Blanche, Washington D.C., 4 avril 1939

Dans cette Amérique encore ségréguationite, voir une cantatrice noire, petite-fille d’esclaves, dans un lieu aussi emblématique fut quelque chose d’exceptionnel. Cela se passait en effet quinze ans avant le mouvement pour les droits civiques des noirs américains, dont les prémices se faisaient déjà sentir. 

En cette année 1939, Marian rentra d’une tournée européenne, où elle fut encensée par la presse et en entame une nouvelle aux États-Unis. Cette dernière s’avèra bien plus difficile. Elle dut voyager dans les wagons attribués aux Noirs, ne eut réserver de chambres d’hôtel à son nom et même lorsqu’elle remplissait de prestigieuses salles de concert, il arriva qu’elle se voit exclue des loges, alors même que le public de ses concerts était majoritairement blanc.

Marian Anderson

Le 7 janvier 1955 elle brisa ce que les américains dénomment «la barrière de la couleur» en étant la première afro-américaine à chanter au Met de New-York: elle y incarnait Ulrica dans le Bal masqué de Verdi. Avant qu’elle commence à chanter son rôle d’Ulrica le public lui fit une “standing ovation”. Six ans plus tard, elle chantera l’hymne américain pour l’investiture du Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

En 1957, l’autobiographie d’Anderson, My Lord, What a Morning, fut publiée. La même année, elle effectua une tournée dans 56 pays parrainée par le Département d’État, l’American National Theatre and Academy et la série télévisée Edward It Murrow See It Now. Son rôle d’ambassadrice de bonne volonté pour les États-Unis a été officialisé en septembre 1958 lorsqu’elle fut nommée déléguée auprès des Nations Unies. Anderson reçut la médaille présidentielle de la liberté en 1963 par le président Lyndon B. Johnson, et elle a été récipiendaire de nombreux diplômes honorifiques. Elle fit des tournées d’adieu dans le monde et aux États-Unis en 1964-1965. En 1977, son 75e anniversaire, a été marqué par un concert de gala au Carnegie Hall. Parmi ses innombrables distinctions et prix, citons la National Medal of Arts en 1986 et le Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement de l’industrie musicale américaine en 1991.

Après s’être retirée de la scène en 1965, Anderson a vécu dans sa ferme du Connecticut. Ses dernières années ont été passées à Portland, Oregon, où elle avait emménagé avec son neveu. Elle y est décédée de causes naturelles le 8 avril 1993.

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