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Marian Anderson's Big Moment: A Look Back

Marian Anderson performs at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Marian Anderson performs at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939.

Seventy years ago, a concert took place on Easter at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At least 75,000 people attended the performance, which was heard across the country on NBC Radio. The performer was opera singer Marian Anderson.

The location for the concert was not chosen for its audience capacity. Anderson had tried to book Constitution Hall, but the Daughters of the American Revolution, which owned the hall, refused to let her perform there because she was black.

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt interceded and arranged for the alternate venue.

In his new book The Sound of Freedom, Raymond Arsenault argues that standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Easter, Anderson set in motion events that would change the country.

"It was really against her nature to be an activist," he says. "For her, it was all about the music."

But Anderson didn't just touch people musically that day — she touched them culturally, as well.

"She confounded the expectations and she forced people to reshuffle the deck," Arsenault says. "It didn't make them racial integrationists overnight, but it gave them at least a glimpse of another world."

Click the link at the top of the page to hear the full interview with Raymond Arsenault, starting around noon ET on Sunday, April 12.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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