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Philadelphia native and groundbreaking opera singer, Marian Anderson will see her life and legacy honored at the Penn Museum in February. Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
Philadelphia native and groundbreaking opera singer, Marian Anderson will see her life and legacy honored at the Penn Museum in February. Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Penn Museum to spotlight iconic singer Marian Anderson throughout Black History Month

Anderson is notably the first Black woman to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and was a prominent figure in the civil rights struggle.

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Throughout February, the Penn Museum will be honoring the legacy of the iconic and groundbreaking singer, Marian Anderson.

In 1955, Anderson broke the color barrier becoming the first Black woman to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. This is just one of the many accomplishments she has achieved throughout her life and career.

Thanks to a multi-tiered, year-round partnership with the National Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society, the Penn Museum will honor her life and legacy through a variety of events. 

“As one of the most important historical figures of the 20th century for her exceptional music artistry and her humanitarianism, Marian Anderson’s legacy is even more relevant and paramount in our nation’s current state,” said Jillian Patricia Pirtle, CEO of the National Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society. 

The Penn Museum’s virtual book club, Between the Lines, will feature a reading of Anderson’s memoir, “My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography.” Published in 1956, the book details a firsthand account of Anderson’s perspectives about growing up in South Philly, the discrimination she often faced, triumphing over her adversities, and the music that helped shaped her career as an internationally recognized opera superstar. 

The book club will meet three times — the first of which will be Monday, Feb. 7, 2022 at 6 p.m. The cost is $15. 

To ensure that this program is accessible to everyone, the Penn Museum will offer need-based scholarships, which include a digital copy of the book and waive registration fees. 

In addition to her opera career and civil rights work, the spotlight will also highlight another component of Anderson’s life. 

“Little is known in the public eye about Marian Anderson’s decades-long romance with her beloved husband, Orpheus ‘King’ Fisher,” said Pirtle. “We are delighted that we can continue to share this aspect of Marian Anderson’s life and story with this beautiful and dramatic presentation of their rare and sacred love letters.”

Through a musical hosting of “The Letters,” a reading of the personal correspondence between Anderson and her husband, the National Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society will document the “70-year courtship and one of the greatest romantic stories of all time.” 

This event will take place Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022 at 4:00 p.m., inside Harrison Auditorium at the Penn Museum. It costs $30 for general admission admission to the concert, and $50 for the concert and a private reception. 

“We are extremely grateful for this partnership and support of the Penn Museum, as we present this wonderful programming to the public,” added Pirtle.

The Penn Museum’s “The Stories We Wear” exhibit features a velvet merlot gown Anderson often wore throughout her career during her performances. 

“The generous loan from the National Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society positions Philadelphia’s cultural history as a key anchor point within The Stories We Wear’s 2,500 years of global dress and decoration. The breadth of stunning ensembles on display opens up a new way to make anthropology and archaeology accessible to all — through style and fashion,” said Dr. Christopher Woods, Williams Director of the Penn Museum and the Avalon Professor in the Humanities at the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn. 

“The stories behind ‘what we wear,’ including Marian Anderson’s inspirational story, are fascinating, powerful, and transformative,” he added. 

Anderson is one of the most well-known and prominent South Philadelphia natives, for both her singing and humanitarian work. In 1943, she was awarded the Philadelphia Award for her contributions to working on behalf of the best interests of the community. 

In 1998, The Kimmel Center established an award in her honor — The Marian Anderson Award — which honors critically acclaimed artists “who have impacted society in a positive way, either through their work or their support for an important cause.”

Past winners include Harry Belafonte, Elizabeth Taylor, Quincy Jones, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Sidney Poitier, Richard Gere, Maya Angelou, Norman Lear, James Earl Jones, Berry Gordy, Dionne Warwick, Jon Bon Jovi, Queen Latifah and more. 

Throughout the month of February, Penn Museum’s events will serve as opportunities for the public to learn more about Anderson’s legacy. For a full list of Penn Museum events, click here.

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