This video and sound recording was made on the afternoon of Sunday, April 9, 1939, from a temporary stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.. The recording was made by the U.S. Department of the Interior, under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. 
On Easter Sunday in 1939, classical vocalist Marian Anderson gave an open-air performance from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. More than 75,000 people showed up to listen to the free concert. Anderson's performance was introduced by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. 
Anderson, one of the United States' most successful classical singers at the time, had been scheduled to perform at Constitution Hall, a celebrated venue operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). However, the DAR refused to allow Anderson, an African-American woman, to perform to an integrated audience. Thousands of members of the DAR resigned in protest, led by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. 
With the support of Eleanor and her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ickes organized the concert, which became a groundbreaking moment in civil rights history. 
Most of the concert is preserved in this sound recording. Anderson's final song, the spiritual "My Soul is Anchored in the Lord," was cut due to recording limitations at the time.
Sections of particular interest to educators are italicized.
  • Introduction: NBC announcer outlines program and introduces Interior Secretary Ickes (start-1:16 min.)
  • Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes: "All of us are free" speech decrying bigotry and introducing Marian Anderson (1:16-5:00 min.)
  • Marian Anderson: "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)" (5:27-7:17 min.)
  • Marian Anderson: "O Mio Fernando," from the opera La Favorite by Gaetano Donizetti (7:34-13:05 min.)
  • Marian Anderson: "Ave Maria," traditional, music by Franz Schubert (13:30-18:45 min.)
  • Intermission: NBC announcer offers a "word picture" of the Lincoln Memorial and an overview of Marian Anderson's career as a "typical American success story" (18:55-24:12 min.)
  • Marian Anderson: "Gospel Train," traditional, arrangement by Henry Burleigh (24:12-25:40 min.)
  • Marian Anderson: "Trampin'," by Edward Boatner (25:50-29:12 min.)
  • Conclusion: NBC announcer concludes the program, ending with still-familiar NBC jingle (29:12-29:35 min.)
Strategies for Discussing "Marian Anderson Performs on the National Mall"
A series of possible discussion topics is provided in the following tab, "Questions." 
Strategies for Using Audio and Video Sources
  • Prepare students for watching and listening: Whose voices will they be hearing? What is the date of the recording? What technology was used to make this recording?
  • Have students listen to the type of material recorded: Is this a political speech? An interview? A conversation or discussion? A court case? A religious or spiritual ceremony? A piece of entertainment?
  • Have students listen to the language in the recording: What language(s) are heard in the recording? What does this indicate about the speaker? What does it indicate about the audience?
  • Discuss the recording after listening to and watching one or more sections: What was important about this recording? Why has it been preserved?
Strategies for Using Primary Sources
One of the most familiar ways to introduce students to primary sources is the method using the acronym APPARTS.
Author: Who created this resource? What is their point of view?
Place and Time: When was this resource produced? How might that influence its meaning?
Prior Knowledge: What social, cultural, or historical information would help students understand the context of this resource?
Audience: Who was the intended audience for this resource? Who is its audience today?
Reason: Why was this resource produced?
The Main Idea: What message was this resource trying to convey? How has it succeeded or failed?
Significance: What message does this resource offer today?
  1. This free concert was introduced by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. (1:16) What made him an appropriate choice?

    • Answer

      As head of the Department of the Interior, Ickes oversaw the National Park Service. The Lincoln Memorial, where the concert was held, is a part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. The National Mall also includes the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, both of which Ickes acknowledges in his speech. With the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Ickes had the authority to schedule and organize such a concert, as well as arrange the logistics: sound equipment, a grand piano for Anderson's accompanist, lighting, scaffolding and stage, and increased security to accommodate such a large crowd.

      Ickes himself was ideally suited to organize the groundbreaking event. A longtime supporter of civil rights, Ickes served as president of the Chicago chapter of the NAACP before joining Roosevelt's cabinet. As Interior Secretary, he was insistent that African American workers be included in Public Works Administration (PWA) projects. (The PWA was part of Roosevelt's New Deal administered by the Department of the Interior.) During World War II, Ickes strongly opposed the internment of Japanese Americans.

  2. In his introductory speech, Ickes denounces bigotry and injustice, shaming those "too timid or too indifferent" (3:35) to support equality. However, to modern listeners, his speech is still somewhat problematic. Why?

    • Answer

      Although Ickes strongly opposes racism and bigotry, his language and attitude are dated. He uses the term "Negro," which is no longer the preferred term for African Americans. "Negro" and "colored," as well as "black," were acceptable terms at the time.

      Ickes' frame of reference is also a product of his time. He speaks of the concert as a "glorious tribute" (2:35) to the "Great Emancipator" (Abraham Lincoln), from a "daughter of the race from which he struck the chains of slavery." (2:40) This paternal, even patronizing, phrase, seems to put Anderson and all African Americans entirely in Lincoln's debt, ignoring their own struggles and hard-won victories.

      While Ickes' speech includes glowing acknowledgements of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveowners, it fails to mention any people of color who fought for freedom and emancipation, such as Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman.

  3. In 1939, Marian Anderson was a well-established classical vocalist. She was wildly popular in Europe and was completing one of the longest and most successful tours of any singer in American history—performing at more than 70 venues across the country. The concert at Constitution Hall was supposed to be a triumphant end to that tour. Why didn't she perform there?

    • Answer

      Washington, D.C., was a segregated city in 1939. African Americans had separate schools, and facilities at public venues were marked for either "white" or "colored" use. African Americans were forced into inferior seating, in the back of buses and in the back of Constitution Hall.

      Anderson, her manager, and the local African American community refused to have the concert be segregated. They demanded integrated seating at Constitution Hall. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), which operated Constitution Hall, refused.

      The concert at the Lincoln Memorial was a spectacular success, and the DAR learned from its mistakes. The organization welcomed Anderson (and integrated audiences) many times after 1939. In fact, Anderson chose to launch her farewell American tour from Constitution Hall in 1964.

  4. The first song on Marian Anderson's Easter Sunday program is "America." (5:27) Why was this patriotic song particularly appropriate?

    • Answer

      Anderson likely chose "America" due to its powerful closing stanza: "Let freedom ring."

      "Let freedom ring" echoed throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, almost exactly where Marian Anderson stood 26 years before. The 200,000 people gathered to listen to him was the largest crowd ever on the National Mall–breaking the previous record of 75,000 held by Anderson's concert.

      The speech—"I Have a Dream"—is one of the most famous in American history. Its closing lines echo "America":
      Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
      Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
      Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
      Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
      Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
      But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
      Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
      Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
      From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

  5. At the beginning of the recording, the announcer recognizes Marian Anderson as having an "outstanding contralto voice." During the intermission, he quotes Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini as saying "a voice like [hers] is heard once in a hundred years." (23:25) What makes a contralto voice so distinct?

    • Answer

      Contralto is the deepest register among female classical singers. The lower range of the contralto register can be heard in this recording of the song "Trampin'" (25:50) It is a very rare singing voice, and Marian Anderson is probably the most well-known contralto in history.

      Many operas feature contralto roles—Anderson's debut at the the Metropolitan Opera was in the contralto role of Ulrica, in Giuseppi Verdi's opera Un ballo in maschera. However, because the range is so rare, most contraltos can also sing in the mezzo-soprano register. A few can even sing roles for sopranos—the highest register among female classical music vocalists.

      In this concert, Anderson sings two classical songs. The first is the mezzo-soprano aria "O mio Fernando," from Gaetano Donizetti's opera La Favorite. After the aria, Anderson lends her voice to Franz Schubert's famous melody for the hymn "Ave Maria." The language (Latin) of this hymn is taken entirely from Catholic liturgy.

  6. Anderson's last two songs are classically arranged spirituals. What are spirituals, and how do they differ from traditional religious music such as "Ave Maria"?

    • Answer

      Spirituals are religious songs (almost always Christian) created by enslaved African Americans. In fact, spirituals are sometimes called "Negro spirituals."

      Unlike "Ave Maria," spirituals were composed and arranged by congregants, not the church itself. African Americans integrated folk melodies, European classical music, and biblical language to create spirituals. Although some musical elements have been traced to traditional African rhythms, spirituals are a uniquely African American art form. Even African slave communities in nearby Latin America did not develop the tradition of spirituals that African Americans in the United States and Canada did.

      The melodies of spirituals are wide-ranging, as evidenced by the two selections Marian Anderson chose for this concert: the uptempo "Gospel Train" (arranged in a major key) and the melancholy "Trampin'," (arranged in a minor key).

      The language of popular spirituals is generally uplifting and hopeful, although often expressed in terms of endurance, struggle, faith, and hard work. This language was relevant to the slave communities in which spirituals were composed, and remained relevant through the civil rights era. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was guided by religious leaders, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pastor Ralph Abernathy; the language of spirituals permeated the movement. The spiritual "We Shall Overcome" became its defining song.

      Marian Anderson helped establish a rich tradition of female African-American classical singers, including Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, and Kathleen Battle. Spirituals are a part of the repertoire of all these singers, and popular components of recitals and concerts.


song, or part of a song or melody, usually sung in an opera.


prejudiced or intolerant of a person or group not like oneself.


group of high-ranking government officials, usually top advisers to a president or monarch.

civil rights movement

(~1954-1968) process to establish equal rights for all people in the United States, focusing on the rights of African Americans.

adjective, noun

deepest register of the female voice.

Eleanor Roosevelt

(1884-1962) American diplomat and first lady (wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt).




to combine, unite, or bring together.


religious worship or ritual.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

(1929-1968) American pastor and civil rights leader.

adjective, noun

middle register or range of the female voice, between a soprano (high) and contralto (low). Also called mezzo.


(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) civil rights organization.

National Park Service

U.S. federal agency with the mission of caring "for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage."


comic or dramatic play in which all roles are sung.


governmental or social systems based on the belief that one race or ethnic group is superior to others.


series of tones or notes of the human voice. Also called a vocal register.


the systemic separation of people based on race, religion, or caste.


the highest range of the female voice.


religious song, often a traditional folk melody.


part of a poem, marked by a certain number of lines or syllables.