Marian Anderson, born in 1897, began singing as a child, joined the Union Baptist Church choir at age six, earned the nickname of Baby Contralto and eventually perfected her soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices. At age eight, her father bought her a piano, and she taught herself to play it. She was so gifted that her church congregation paid for her to take voice lessons under Giuseppe Boghetti, which cost about $500, a lot of money at the time.
Anderson studied under Boghetti for two years, and eventually won a New York Philharmonic Society contest that gave her the chance to sing at Lewisohn Stadium in New York. Later, in 1928, Anderson performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall before going on a tour of Europe funded by a Julius Rosenwald scholarship.
In the 1930s, Anderson was known for her music in the United States and abroad. She eventually became the first African-American to perform at the White House, on the invitation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor. In 1955, she also became the first African-American performer to become a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera. After being turned down to perform at Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to perform to a crowd of 75,000 on Easter Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. Millions listened via radio.
Anderson sang the national anthem at John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration, and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom two years later. She retired to a farm in Connecticut in 1965, and won the lifetime achievement award at the Grammy Awards in 1991.