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How Classical Music Advanced the Civil Rights Movement


When Marian Anderson took the stage at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on this day in 1955, TIME wrote, “there were more Negroes in the audience than anyone had ever seen at the Met.” The reason was clear:

In Box No. 35 of the Golden Horseshoe, the place usually reserved for visiting statesmen and royalty, sat a small, aged lady who had once been a washerwoman in Philadelphia. Her name was Anna Anderson. As a girl, her daughter dreamed of singing in this great gilt and plush house. Now, at 52, Contralto Marian Anderson was realizing the dream. The first Negro singer to appear at the Metropolitan, she was making her debut in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.

There’s a lot to cringe at in TIME’s coverage of Anderson in the middle of the 20th century—not only the use of that then-common, now-defunct term “Negro,” but also her characterization

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