She didn't even go on stage. Yet all the clamoring and respect that marked Marian Anderson's long career, weighed heavily with firsts in music and racial history, still pursued her.
On Sunday Anderson celebrated her 75th birthday at Carnegie Hall with members of her family and thousands of fans, including First Lady Rosalynn Carter. From the stage the components that produced Anderson and legend - her artistry, both in the classical and spiritual genre, her generosity, especially with scholarships, and her critical role as a calm challenger to racial barriers, were remebered.
"Simply," said the great soprano Leontyne Price, looking solemnly at the box where Anderson sat with Mrs. Carter, "because of you I am."
It was not only her voice, the rich contralto instrument conduct Arturo Toscanini called "a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years." But also her accomplishments in the overwhelmingly white world of classical music that opened the doors for Price's generation.
In 1955, long after her career had been established and lauded, Anderson became the first black singer to appear with the Metropolitan Opera Company. In a life of milestones, giving her the status of an activist, one she bore rather than relished, she was also the first black to entertain at the White House, during the Roosevelt administration; she sang at President John Kennedy's inauguration and in 1963 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.
"Because there are so many friends here tonight I feel compelled to tell you I am profoundly," and Anderson's voice, at first deep and clear, diminished to a whisper as she looke at the audienced and concluded, ". . . happy."
Anderson, who retired from the same Carnegie Hall stage on Easter Sunday 1965, has been housebound in recent months, suffering from arthritis and hypertension, and protected by her family any excitement. During the birthday celebration she appeared frail, and, at times, physically and emotionally drained by the evening.
But her brown eyes with the fire of dancing gypsies, glowed, the wrinkles on her round face settled into a haughty nobility and her mouth, outlined in bright red lipstick, broke into a broad smile, as she stood in the box and thanked the audience.
"She's a great lady,' said Mrs. Carter at the end of the evening.
Besides the music, performed by operatic stars Price, Shirley Verrett, Mignon Dunn and Clamma Dale, and instrumentalists Pinchas Zukerman, James Levine, Walter Trampler and Claude Frank, the celebration was stocked with honors.
Through a Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress, read by Mrs. Carter, Anderson became the first black American to have a medal struck in her honor. She also received awards from the City of New York, where in July 1925 she won a contest at Lewisohn Stadium that started her professional career, and from the United Nations where she was a delegate in the late 1950s.
Because of Mrs. Carter's presence and the fragile health of Anderson and her husband of 34 years, Orpheus Fisher tight security created a jam around their boxes. Anderson sat near to a lifelong friend, Gwendolyn Carter, and Mrs. Carter next to J. McLain Stewart, national President of Young Audiences, Inc., a public school education program that Anderson has supported for many years. Audiences sponsored Sunday's program and received the proceeds from the admission.
In the narrow hall outside the Anderson-Carter box during intermission, congressmen and musicians scrambled for "just one minute" with either lady. Rep. Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.), who had introduced the Anderson Resolution in the House, got Rep. Margaret Heckler (D-Mass.) near Anderson. "Her face lit up when I told her she was writing a new page in civil rights history tonight," said Heckler.
Clamma Dale, the singer of "Bess" in the Broadway production of "Porgy and Bess' last year, had never met Anderson before Sunday. "When I was growing up, even the most uninformed people musically knew who Marian Anderson was," said Dale. "She was the image always held before me."
Arthur Mitchell, the first black dancer to become a member of a major classic ballet company when he joined the New York City Ballet in 1955, chatted with Ruth Ellington, the composer's sister, McHenry Boatwright and Camilla Williams, both former winners of the Marion Anderson Scholarship.
Sir Rudolph Bing, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, the man who brought Anderson to that stage, emerged from the box, smiling wistfully. "She still a warm and humble as she was 20 years ago, and, I believe it's been that long since I saw her, he said.
Franz Rupp, Anderson's accompanist for most of her career, said it was not the night for reminiscing but "simple celebration." And, he related, she had laughed heartily when he announced that Mayor Abraham Beame was shorter than he. "Sometimes the situations were so maddening, the prejudice and all. I am not a diplomat but Marian was. She used to quiet me down and she enriched my life," said Rupp. At times Anderson would sit on her luggage in the railroad station eating her meals because she couldn't be served at the luch counter.
As demonstrated by the dozen cousins sitting around her, Anderson, though she has been one of the most honored blacks of this century, never forgot the family and early influences that pushed her upward. Born in Philadelphia, Anderson, one of three daughters of John and Anna Anderson, was raised in a rented single room. Her father worked as a barber, later sold ice and coal, and her mother, trained as a schoolteacher in the South, took in laundry.
When Anderson started singing in the church choirs at age 6, she scrubbed steps to ease the burden of music lessons on the mother. Her father died when she was 9. When her interests changed from spirituals to the classics - after Roland Hayes, a famous tenor, appeared at the church - the congregation raised money to give her proper training.
But America largely turned its back on her talent and she found a warmer reception in Europe. After a successful tour there, she was signed by impresario Sol Hurok and began to build an American audience.
Yet the success was tempered by the racial climate of the day. In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Anderson perform in Constitution Hall.
In the wake of the controversy Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR and the federal government permitted Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939. Seventy-five thousand people lined the reflecting pool to hear her sing "America."
In a recent interview, recalling that day, Anderson said, "It was a tremendous thing and my heart beat like mad - it's never beat like that before - loud and strong and as though it wanted to say something, if you know what I mean. I don't like to use the word protesting but my reaction was, what have I done that should bring this onto my heart. I was not trying to cut anybody down. I just wanted to sing and share."
Though here status as a pioneer is certainly part of her lasting mystique, Anderson thinks of singing, nor racial heroism, when she looks back. "I think first of music and of being there where music is, and of music being where I am. What I had was singing, and if my career has been of some consequence, then that's my contribution," she said recently.
But it's Marian Anderson, standing proud in front of Abraham Lincoln's statue, her eyes closed, her fur coat seemingly her shield against the world, whom people remember. " I still think of her in those Roosevelt years," Martin Jacobs,a middle-aged judicial officer, said on Sunday. "That incident was a turning point in whites' attitudes toward Negroes, that's what we called blacks then, and after all those years I can still see her face."
After Sunday's concert, Mrs. Carter departed immediately. Then Anderson had a five-minute session with reporters, her doctor and a nurse standing behind her.
"The biggest thrill is always the last one," she said. "and tonight is definitely included." She seemed to enjoy teasing as when she was asked about future singing plans. "Well, I don't know. I really only sing for myself and friends now."
Outside Carnegie Hall, waiting in the rain, were 30 proverbial stagedoor fans. It was full half-hour before Anderson appeared, and they yelled "Bravo," obediently moving back and putting away the cameras when the guards requested it. "Happy Birthday to You, Marian Anderson," shouted an art collector from Jersey City, N.J., "You are a real woman."