The image of singer and Philadelphia native Marian Anderson featured on the U.S. Postal Service’s latest Black Heritage commemorative stamp is based on a photograph in a special collection at Penn’s Library.
The 37 cent stamp, depicting Anderson wearing a burgundy colored dress, is based on a black-and-white 1934 Moise Benkow photograph housed at the University’s Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The Marian Anderson Collection of Photographs at Penn has more than 4,000 images of the opera and concert star, along with her music library and personal letters and papers which she gave Penn in 1977. The collection traces her singing career from a duet at the age of six in a South Philadelphia Baptist church where she was nicknamed “The Baby Contralto,” through her 1939 Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial where she sang before 75,000 people and millions of radio listeners, to world acclaim.
Ms. Anderson became the first black soloist with the Metropolitan Opera in 1954. Her distinguished career included an engagement with the Philadelphia Orchestra and numerous appearances throughout the U.S. and Europe. In 1979 Luciano Pavarotti gave a solo recital in her honor at the Mann Music Center to benefit the Marian Anderson Library and scholarships established at Penn.
The NEH provided the Library with grants in 1996 to preserve, catalog and make the collection available to the public. In 1998—five years after her death, the Penn Library released a 26-track CD, Marian Anderson, Rare and Unpublished Recordings, 1936-1952, a collection that shed new light on the artistic legacy of one of America’s most enduring cultural icons (Almanac October 27, 1998). She was hailed in 1935 by conductor Arturo Toscanini as “a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.”
Ms. Anderson’s nephew, James DePriest, director of conducting at the Julliard School in New York, holds three degrees from Penn. At the first-day-of-issue ceremonies last week, he likened Ms. Anderson’s success to that of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player.
“When history collides with what you just want to do, your career, then what happens depends on how much grace resides within you,” he said. “It was the combination of talent and grace that enabled both Jackie and, in the case of my aunt, not only to be able to handle obstacles, but to be able to handle them in such a way they became inspirations.” The power of my aunt resided in the power of her art,” he concluded.
The collection of photographs is available to the public at www.library.upenn.edu/collections/rbm/photos/manderson.html.
Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 19, February 1, 2005