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Marian Anderson Tribute Concert




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Lincoln Bicentennial Event Marks 70th Anniversary of Civil Rights Landmark

Washington – When African American contralto Marian Anderson stirred the racially integrated crowd of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial with her rendition of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee in 1939, she set the stage for the modern civil rights era. 

Seventy years later, acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will join the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission at the Memorial for an Easter Sunday concert paying tribute to this civil rights pioneer.

Graves has won accolades for her performances in opera houses across North and South America, Europe and Asia.  She has performed for presidents and popes, dignitaries at the U.N. Summit on the Environment, at the National Prayer Service following the 9/11 tragedies, and at concerts benefiting U.S. military personnel.  She has appeared with the leading symphony orchestras and conductors throughout the world.  She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1995-96 season in the title role of Carmen. 

In May 2005, Graves created the title role in Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner about one of the most significant fugitive slave stories in pre-Civil War America.

“Abraham Lincoln drew his inspiration from the bedrock principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence – the idea that all people are created equal – and the Constitution’s vision of a “more perfect union,” said Eileen Mackevich, ALBC executive director.  “Our country has come a long way since Lincoln’s time, since Marian Anderson’s time.  The Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and its Foundation are honored that Denyce Graves will join us to pay tribute to the memories of Lincoln, Anderson, King, and all the civil rights leaders who set the precedents that made it possible to elect an African American president, and who inspire us to struggle on for ‘a more perfect union’ yet.”

Graves will be joined by the Washington National Opera, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the Chicago Children’s Choir.  A naturalization ceremony will precede the concert, scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on April 12, 2009.

Marian Anderson, who was born in 1897, was described as having “a voice heard once in a hundred years.” Yet in 1939, she was denied the right to perform in Washington, DC’s Constitution Hall due to the color of her skin.  Through the efforts of Anderson, the NAACP, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, arrangements were made to hold the concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

From the moment that Anderson sang to the nation from the steps of the Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939, she anointed the Lincoln Memorial as a shrine to the ideals of freedom and activated the modern civil rights movement.  Those in attendance described her voice “as if it were a prayer” and the performance as a “beautiful awakening.”

A grant from The McCormick Foundation makes the concert possible.

Congress established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to recommend appropriate ways to commemorate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 2009.  The Commission is predicated on the premise that it will function as a public-private partnership.  Congress appropriates funds for administration.  Private funding is necessary, however, to produce all programs, events and materials planned for the Bicentennial.  To support the public-private partnership, and insure that Lincoln activities continue into the future, the Commission established the ALBC Foundation, a 501(c)(3) based in Washington, in 2007.