I was just listening to Marian Anderson, the American contralto, and remembered hearing the story of her concert debacle/triumph in Washington, DC, in 1939. Anderson was considered the greatest contralto of her generation and she had had great success on the concert circuit in Europe. (Interestingly, she didn’t like to perform in operas, although she sang many opera arias in recital.) She was scheduled to sing in Constitution Hall in DC because it was the only place large enough to hold her audience. That is, until the Daughters of the American Revolution, who owned the hall, found out that Anderson was, well, you know, black, and there would be none of that in their hall, thank you very much. After much drama, Eleanor Roosevelt — who resigned from the DAR as a result of this — arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000. (You can see the performance on YouTube right here.) A very nice poke in the eye to the DAR and a huge success for Anderson and African-Americans. Plus, she’s an extraordinarily fabulous vocalist and it’s wonderful for her to get the audience she deserved.
And more power to the contraltos of the world!