On January 7th 1955 contralto Marian Anderson broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera House by being the first African-American to sing there. MET General Director Rudolf Bing invited Anderson to make her debut as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera opposite Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill & Roberta Peters. Anderson would celebrate her 58th Birthday just a few weeks later on February 27th.
The magnitude of her musical gifts was noted when conductor Arturo Toscanini said “Anderson had a voice that came along once in a hundred years.” Marian Anderson’s MET debut was earth-shattering because it now paved the way for other great African-American artists to follow: Leontyne Price, Robert McFerrin, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, George Shirley and a host of others.
Listen to Marian Anderson as Ulrica in January 1955 from the stage at the MET.
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Today, June 24th, marks the fiftieth anniversary of Detroit Pride, a milestone that we are also celebrating at Detroit Opera!