The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

by Russell Freedman

Hardcover, 2004



Local notes

323.4 Fre



Clarion Books (2004), Edition: 2nd Print, Hardcover, 128 pages


In the mid-1930s, Marian Anderson was a famed vocalist who had been applauded by European royalty and welcomed at the White House. But, because of her race, she was denied the right to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. This is the story of her resulting involvement in the civil rights movement of the time.

Physical description

128 p.; 10.04 inches


0618159762 / 9780618159765



User reviews

LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
What a magnificent book to be reading the night that the first African American was elected president of the United States!
Aside from the timing, this story of Marion Anderson's life was deftly written, and the the subject is genuinely inspiring.
Ms. Anderson's determination and delight in singing opened many doors for her - her local community raised money so she could go to school, instead of working to help support her family. Undeterred by singing schools and vocal coaches that refused to accept black students, she became hugely successful, touring Europe and enchanting audiences across the US. But at each turn, racism provided an ugly backdrop, with segregated concert halls, train station waiting rooms, and the notorious incident of the Daughters of the Revolution refusing to allow her to perform in Washington's most appropriate concert hall.
While the book does use the famous concert on the Lincoln steps as a climax, what was fascinating was the picture of a quiet, gentle person drawn into the struggle for equal rights because she had no choice, not because she intended to change the world. I felt that she was driven to sing, not to be an activist, and that adds a poignancy to the courage she showed by her presence, and her simple dignity under terrible conditions.
I wasn't in the mood to read this, but I found it engrossing, and a timely reminder the freedom and equality I experience must never be taken for granted.
Oh, and there is a nice use of photographs and archival documents throughout the book.
I'd give this to someone interested in Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, or interested in civil rights, music, history, or biographies in general.
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LibraryThing member jmsummer
This book gives a great peak into how one persons life can influence, and be influenced, by great change. The author gives us a great look at Marian Andersons life. Rather than do a book just about her life or just about the civil rights movement, he choose to start off at the high point of Ms. Anderson sings at the Lincon Memorial. He then flashes back to the beginning of her life and works his way back up to that point and beyond. I would not choose this book to talk about civil rights or equal rights. This is not the books primary focus. They are rather part of the framework that helps to build up Marian's story. If anything, I would recomend that anyone that uses this book would combine it wiht a full unit on the civil rights movement.… (more)
LibraryThing member jaisidore
A Voice That Challenged A Nation is a Robert F Sibert and Newbery Honor awarded book which details the struggles, successes, and inspirations of Marian Anderson as she pursues her dream of becoming a renowned musical talent. The book moves through Anderson’s life of developing her talent through the spectrum of discrimination and segregation leading up to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Anderson’s motivation- to have singing be a part of her life- takes her through the changing worlds of the U.S. North and South, and Europe where she overcomes the obstacles of segregation to perform at the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and eventually Constitution Hall. This work of Russell Freedman brings attention the various dynamics of the civil rights struggle of African Americans post-Civil War period. Freedman details Anderson’s motivation for success and her enormous talent as a means of breaking through racial barriers compared to such a breakthrough coming through the search for political freedoms. The book’s attention to primary sources and quoted information gives readers detailed insights to how individuals perceived Anderson’s life, career, and personality. Along with archival photos, these sources add to the understanding of the impact Anderson had during this period. The work altogether can be installed in the curriculum of several subject areas; especially comparison of time periods in history and music courses.… (more)
LibraryThing member edspicer
On page 66 and 67 of this book is a two-page photo spread of Marion Anderson singing from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter 1939. Perhaps she is singing “America.” Maybe as the photographer snapped the picture she is saying the words, “sweet land of liberty…” The photograph is a grainy black and white picture. In the background is the Washington Monument. The sky is overcast. The wind is blowing. Marion is wearing a black mink coat. It is cold. Thousands and thousands of people pack this picture and they are there on this cold day simply because this woman could sing. She is singing. Singing for free. A gift, a generous gift to the nation from a talented black singer who was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because of her race. Singing even though she could not stay in any Washington hotels and had to travel from Philadelphia to sing that Easter because of her race.

As Freedman does so well, The Voice that Challenged a Nation is an exquisite blend of text and photograph. I love the fact that Freedman leaves out any attempt to put a caption on the photo spread discussed above; the picture alone is sufficient. On page 55 is a copy of the Saturday, March 4, 1929 Pittsburgh Courier (Philadelphia Edition) headline that reads, “MRS. ROOSEVELT QUITS D.A.R.” with the story of Mrs. Roosevelt’s criticism of D.A.R. for excluding Marion Anderson from their concert hall, a perfect example of using historical materials to place the reader properly in the mood of the times.

Marion Anderson’s primary interest was singing. She practiced from the time she was a young girl until she stopped performing late in life. She studied in Europe. She performed in concert halls throughout the world. She never sought a political spotlight, never tried to become anything other than the best singer she could be. Freedman shows us that her talent forced her into the spotlight; forced her to represent black artists around the world; drove her into positions of authority, such as her appointment as a United Nations delegate; and earned her honors like the Presidential Medal of Freedom (which put her in the spotlight even more).

Marion Anderson becomes a person we wish we lived near, a person we wished we grew up knowing, a person whose music we want to start collecting; she becomes someone we admire. Freedman allows Anderson’s own words to tell the story, primary documents to focus our attention, and quotes from her friends and families to shape our feelings, while Freedman steps graciously out of her way. This is what elevates Freedman’s books over other biographies. It is too bad this book does not come with music and a stereo system, although there are times reading this book and looking at the pictures, you will swear it does.
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LibraryThing member lleighton05
Genre: This book gives the story of Marian Anderson's life from the view of another person. Great research has been done to make her story accurate. It portrays her amazing singing talent and how her race as an African American affects what she was able to do. It also shows how she helped fight for equal rights.
Plot: The plot line follows the life of Marian Anderson. It initially starts out with her singing at the Lincoln Memorial, one of the greatest moments of her career and her life. Then it follows her life in chronological order. There is no specific climax, but an ongoing conflict of African Americans struggling for equal rights. It uses her life to demonstrate just one aspect in the fight for equality.
Media: photography
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LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
Marian Anderson was an internationally acclaimed singer in the 1930s and '40s. Internationally acclaimed, and yet she still couldn't book some venues in the United States because she was black. In this fascinating biography, Freedman explores Anderson's life from her under-resourced roots in Philadelphia to her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt to her success performing in countries around the world. I didn't know anything about Anderson before listening to this book, but I found her story absorbing and important. A great choice for families with upper elementary or middle school students.… (more)
LibraryThing member fullerl
Marian Anderson loved to sing even as a little girl. At a young age, it became clear that Marian had a gift - the gift of music. The Voice That Challenged a Nation is a biography of Marian Anderson, an African American woman, who through her career as a professional singer, helped break barriers and bring awarness and understanding to the struggle for Equal Rights.

This book is broken into chapters with titles which help readers find the information in which they are most interested.

Towards the end there is an awkward piece where the text talks about her death but in the following chapter backs up a bit and talks more about events that happened during Marian's life. This break in the chronology is perhpas the only flaw in a wonderfully written tribute to an amazing woman.
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LibraryThing member avcr
I am ashamed to admit that before reading this book, I had never heard of Marian Anderson—whew, now that’s off my chest, let me just say that in the same vein as Rosa Parks, where the opprobrious inquietude of white society constructs forces the timidity of souls to speak out and condemn injustice for what it is, Marian was not a natural activist, but as history reveals; supreme gifts force ultimate engagements. Marian’s Father died of a head injury when Marian was 12, she attended a racially mixed grammar school in South Philadelphia, but learned that despite the lack of segregation, racism and prejudice abounded and prevented true interaction. Marian was part Native American. Her Grandfather converted to Judaism; she was a regular in church and was a senior member in the Union Baptist Church, where she developed her singing talent. She also learned to play the piano, and was greatly influenced by Tenor, Roland Hayes. When she went to enroll in Music School, she was coldly informed that they “don’t take colored” (p.12). After that stinging blow, it becomes clear why the DAR rejection catapulted her into activist. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson broke down racial barriers and was the first African American to win the prestigious Philadelphia Medal (Bok Award) in 1941. While Freedman’s voice is dry, it is clean and precise; and the rest, as they say, is history—a definite must for all.
Award: Newbery Medal
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LibraryThing member NathanielLouisWood
This is biography on the singing career of Marian Anderson, and her contribution to breaking down the 'color barrier' in the United States.Short of summarizing the book I would certainly recommend this as text one could use when exploring early twentieth century US History, as it gives a perspective not often addressed.… (more)
LibraryThing member KbookB
Marian Anderson always loved to sing. In school, in church, and at the gatherings where people first started paying to hear her voice. Her family was poor, but thanks to the generosity of her church, music teachers and fellow musicians, and her own determination and hard work, she became a star - singing for royalty in Europe. But in America, she could not sing in the finest concert hall in Washington D.C., Constitution Hall. Despite its name, the hall’s owners, the Daughters of the Revolution, had decided to bar black performers. What happened next would change the nation.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation is a captivating biography. Freedman does justice to the story of an amazing and relatively-unknown subject. Readers will be inspired by Anderson’s perseverance and humility as she transforms from the daughter of a coal and ice salesman into a renowned and ground-breaking singer.
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LibraryThing member amandacb
Marian Anderson was a famous singer who was born in 1897; Freedman details her ascent in his biography that details her life from childhood to her death in 1993. Much of the biography centers around Anderson’s famous and social-scene altering concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, a triumph of sorts for equal rights at the time.

Anderson always had a special talent for singing, and yet she struggled to find the funds for tutoring/schooling. Her church supported her throughout her early days, and Anderson began her early career with many small jobs, hired out to sing at concerts. She traveled extensively, visiting overseas quite often and even studying in England and Germany for a time.

Once Anderson returned to America, her ascent to stardom accelerated, but not without its issues. Jim Crow laws were in full effect, and Anderson was subject to segregation and separation as were all the other African-Americans at the time. Her thoughts on these issues were poignant; this line especially struck me: “’Somebody doesn’t always come right up to you and say, “You can’t have this, you can’t have that,” she told an interviewer. ‘It’s just as though there’s a hair that blows across your face. Nobody sees it, but it’s there and you can feel it’” (80).

Throughout the biography a consistent theme of persistent threads its way through the story; Anderson received numerous honorary degrees, including a doctorate from Harvard, despite her early troubles with schooling. She persisted in the face of discrimination and persisted when she was stymied in her personal life.

Freedman writes in a very plain, unadorned style; the biography is not enthralling, but one can clearly see that Freedman has respect for Anderson.
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LibraryThing member Chrisdier
Russell Freeman’s “The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights” is a great biography that discusses the life of one of America’s most famous singers. The book starts off with probably the most pivotal moment in Anderson’s life. The moment is Marian Anderson singing to over 75,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial. She was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall because of her skin, so she decided to give an open concert there. The Daughters of the American Revolution was behind the decision, which caused Eleanor Roosevelt to leave the group.

The book continues to chronologically detail Anderson’s life as she struggled to fulfill her dream as a singer. Once the countries of Europe heard her and the US gave her a chance, she would pave the way for unprecedented opportunities. She even sung in Nazi Germany in German and received a thunderous applause. The book discusses other important events in her life, such as performing for the White House. Unfortunately, as one would guess, Anderson does run into rampant racism, especially in the US segregated south.

Freeman does an excellent job with this biography. It immediately captures your attention and shows the significance of this woman, even to those unfamiliar with her. The book is wonderfully illustrated, as well.

The only critique I would have is this book could be a little deceptive to someone who does not know Marian Anderson. I think many students may pick it up and assume it is a Civil Rights warrior who toured the country giving passionate speeches and igniting political debate. But this book focuses heavily on her life as a singer.

Overall, this book would be great for middle school students who are going to learn about the more modern Civil Rights struggle. It is important for them to understand what those prior to the 60s went through as well. Also, many young girls can relate to Anderson because the desire to be a singer is as popular now as ever.
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LibraryThing member YouthGPL
Susan says: I had previously read about Marian Anderson in a couple of different books about Eleanor Roosevelt, since she was one of the people who argued so strongly for Marian Anderson to be able to sing in Constitution Hall. I realized as I read this book that this would be a great book for Black History Month reports, since Marian Anderson, in her own way, did just as much for civil rights as Rosa Parks and I'm sure this book isn't read as often because of where it is in the alphabet. Marian Anderson rose from poverty to become one of the world's most renowned singers, in spite of her race. She traveled the world offering concerts, and was especially successful in Europe. What I think Freedman does best is combine her story with information about the world around her, in an accessible manner for young readers. Even though her life is extraordinary in many ways (she scrubs steps for 10 cents as a child and then is the only black person allowed in many ritzy hotels), she is still human and interesting. This is a great book, and I will recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member enbrown504
This book was a very informative look at the life of the American singer Marion Anderson. I enjoyed the thorough profile of her life and career at home and abroad. It offered valuable perspective into the trials of minority artists and individuals in pre-civil rights America.
LibraryThing member amclellan0908
In an unconventional biographical approach, Freedman begins his text much like a frame story, focusing on a great moment of tension in Marian Anderson's career--her free concert given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because racism prohibited her from singing in one of the nation's top venues, Constitution Hall. Stepping away from that moment in Anderson's life, Freedman then brings the reader though more conventional details of a biography, introducing us to Anderson's family (her Jewish grandfather, her hardworking father who passed away early in her life after a work injury, and her mother and sisters) and her early education. A great portion of the biography follows Marian Anderson's vocal training, from her rejection based on race to critical reviews of one of her first concerts to her latter success in Europe and the United States. The crux of the text, the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, marked a shift in how Marian Anderson accepted her role as a prominent public figure and used it to help reduce racist attitudes for the following generation (as seen in the story of her nephew at the end of the text). Chapters are titled to reflect a certain aspect of Marian's life, making it all-the-more personal. The bibliography shows how the author used a variety of resources, including articles from a popular women's magazine; however, the author mentioned using Google as a reference, which seemed to be in poor taste.
I could see using this text as an example of biography for a genre study in an English I or II classroom; it could also be used in correlation to a study on Civil Rights literature in an American Literature course.
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LibraryThing member bpoche
Freedman's book documents the life of famed opera singer and civil rights icon Marian Anderson. From her humble beginning in an immigrant neighborhood of Philadelphia to singing before an unsegregated audience at Constitution Hall, Anderson's struggle and her determination throughout are constant themes. Her bravery as a performer and a seeker of social justice demonstrates to readers that through perseverance and hark work, boundaries can be broken. Her performance at the Lincoln Memorial is a major focal point of the book mainly because this point is Marian's pivotal role as a leader in the struggle for equal rights.

While the setting of this story precedes the civil rights era of the 1960s, it provides many historical facets of race relations, particularly those in our nation's capitol. This book would be right at home in any middle to secondary social studies class. Also, art students may find inspiration in Marian's struggle to eventually become a globally-renowned figure in opera.
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LibraryThing member DustinB1983
This is the inspirational story of Marian Anderson, a great vocal artist and the reluctant breaker of racial barriers. While one may say the climax of her life story is her 1939 performance in front on the Lincoln Memorial, Freedman opens with the story of that Easter Sunday, piquing the reader’s interest and carrying it through the book. This is a biography that spans the duration of Anderson’s life, but this short book has a more limited focus; Freedman focuses on Marian’s pursuits and accomplishments as a singer, specifically as it relates to the obstacles placed in her way by racial discrimination. Though she never sought to become a figure in the struggle for equal rights, she found herself in that position when she was refused the opportunity to perform at the Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The DAR inadvertently gave her a voice on the big stage.

Marian Anderson in an inspirational character and Freeman’s description of her is of a refreshingly humble person for an individual of such tremendous talent. While an interesting story with a fair share of dramatic moments, the young reader may not find some of the more mundane details of her life as interesting. Though the intended audience may not be as fascinated by it as I was, her story is a lesson on race relations for students of American history. She faced many challenges to achieve her goals as a result of racial discrimination, from securing the education and training she needed to succeed, to the venues in which she performed and the places to which she travelled. Marian Anderson’s story highlights the dark side of a troubled time in our nation’s history, while demonstrating that individuals overcome and change does happen.
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LibraryThing member laurenryates
The Voice That Challenged a Nation is a biography that chronicles the life of Marian Anderson. The author starts the story of Marian Anderson's struggles as a young, African American singer and the hardships she endures in order to reach her goals of becoming a successful concert singer. She faced many issues, such as not being allowed to sing at Constitution Hall and her travel experiences were less than grand, due to the fact that she was African American. The book was full of photographs and quotes from Marian Anderson herself, which made the book very interesting and easy to follow. The author also did an excellent job of illustrating the civil rights movement that was rippling through the country at the time.… (more)
LibraryThing member jamiesque
Russell Freedman's 'The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights' recounts the life of the singer and, as the title suggests, highlights her encounters with the color barriers of early to mid twentith century United States. The cover of the book sums up Freedman's biography perfectly. The black and white photograph displays Marian, smallish and slightly askew of center. She is standing before a bevy of microphones on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at her concert in 1939. Two giant columns rise up on etiher side of Marian, drawfing her with their width and hight, yet, she maintains a look of strenght and focus. Looming in the background, in bottom center is the seated statue of Abraham Lincoln.
Marian's life's passion, singing and performing, as well as her success, is captured in this moment as she stands in front of the piano before 75,000 fans on the Mall. And while the biography primarily contains information about Marian's life, personal struggles and deep desire to become best singer possible, a secondary focus is the civil rights movement. The cover of the book presents an inextricable relationship between place, time and circumstance, and the life of a talented individual. Her carreer was shaped in part, by the obstacals she had to circumnavigate or, with the help of others, fight against and overcome.
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LibraryThing member cjohn64
“The Voice that Challenged a Nation” is a very good book. I think it would be a great book for young people and older people to read to gain a perspective in segregation. The book also is a great summary of the life of Marian Anderson. I loved reading the book and the pictures included help to sell the story of her life. On a personal not, as I read the book, I would Google songs the book was depicting her singing. As I read of her triumphant and her emotional happiness as she sang in certain places and while I listened to the music she sang, I had a few tears that would present themselves to me. I felt very much moved by this book and am glad I read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member DayehSensei
This non-traditional biography explores Marian Anderson's life by starting at the famous concert she gave at the Lincoln Center in 1939 and going backwards before moving forwards. The text focuses on the civil rights dilemmas Anderson experienced, particularly the controversy about the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR) refusal to let her sing in Constitution Hall. The stunning achievements of her career are also featured prominently. This book is a great accompaniment to any civil rights discussion and also introduces students to a powerful African-American female singer they may never heard of. I just wish the text came with a CD recording of some of her songs.… (more)
LibraryThing member JLCasanova
This book tells the story of the singer Marian Anderson. It tells of the many prejudices she faced as an African American singer in America, such as not be allowed to sing in Constitution Hall or having to ride in segregated railroad cars. Anderson was able to achieve success in Europe, performed at the White House, and was eventually allowed to sing in Constitution Hall. History teachers can use this book to introduce civil rights or as a secondary source on Eleanor Roosevelt. Students can also create a timeline of Anderson's performances. Many teachers have students research influential African Americans, and this book would make an excellent source for that. Music teachers can use this as a way to introduce Marian Anderson's music. In fact, there is a section listed "Selected Discography" that lists some of Anderson's releases. This book also contains a table of contents, an index, acknowledgments and picture credits, and a section called "chapter notes" that explains from which sources the quotes were taken. Freedman follows Anderson's life in chronological order with the exception of the first chapter. Chapter one focuses on Anderson's performance at the Lincoln Memorial that gained her much of her recognition. Freedman then jumps back to when Anderson was a young schoolgirl and follows her career through her death. The author includes black and white photographs that correspond with the story. This book is an easy read that students will comprehend. Teachers may want to include supplemental sources if they are focusing on the Civil Rights Movement because this book just skims the surface it. However, it is a great source for those who want to focus on the success of Marian Anderson.… (more)
LibraryThing member jenunes
Freedman captures the spirit of an engaging life in The Voice That Challenged a Nation. Marian Anderson's tale is another testament of the equality that so many have spent decades striving for. And yet there is a unique twist to her biography for those who enjoy music. A fan of all genres, I was quite taken with her story and eagerly turned each page as she explores the United States and Europe throughout her musical career. An extraordinary life in this well told book, it is something I would recommend for 9-12 American Histroy classrooms, and definitely a copy in the library for those interested in the topic.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kathdavis54
Marian Anderson was an amazing woman. Her life is a great story that would enrich units about civil rights and women's history. She led a full life full of traveling, singing, and eventually historic change. It appears that Russell Freedman put in a lot of time and work in to this account.

Freedman also put in some extras for readers. My favorite section was the partial discography. This will give readers a jumping off point if they want to find some of Anderson's music. On the flip side, I found the selected bibliography too short and the index was too crammed.… (more)
LibraryThing member KeithMaddox
This is an excellent and well-sourced biography of Marian Anderson, centering around the Lincoln Memorial concert given Easter Sunday, 1939, because Constitution Hall would not allow a Black performer. The book contains excellent and interesting photographs and playbills, as well as quotes from a great many figures of the early Twentieth century concerning Anderson. The book provides an interesting view of what life was like, from a Civil Rights perspective and a cultural one, mentioning radio programs and personalities that only people who were there would likely recall. However, the book does not get bogged down into details, focusing instead on Marian Anderson's life, and in particular the significance of the Lincoln Memorial concert. I would recommend this book for a high school student with an interest in music, history, or social justice (or all of the above), though a middle-schooler could probably enjoy it as well, since the book does not require an extensive knowledge of music or history for the story to be followed. I could definitely see this book being used to paint a picture of the Civil Rights situation in the U.S. if a teacher wanted to present a time other than Reconstruction or the 1950's and '60's. The book is rich in historical details and photographs, as has already been mentioned, but also contains Chapter Notes providing sources, a Bibliography, and a suggested Discography.… (more)






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