May 6, 2014
07:50 AM
Arts & Entertainment

Grammy Nominee's Show to Recall 'Diva of Danbury', Marian Anderson

Grammy Nominee's Show to Recall 'Diva of Danbury', Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson

It has been a week filled with the outrage against LA Clipper owner Donald Sterling’s offensive remarks about people of color. For many it underscored the deep-seated racism that still divides this country, 50 years after the peak of the Civil Rights movement.

Sadly, similar outages have been common in our past and well-known entertainment figures were, in the days of Jim Crow, regularly denied lodgings in the very venues that they packed with enthusiastic fans. Perhaps the most egregious of these slights came in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution denied famed African-American contralto Marian Anderson, whose voice had been celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic, the right to sing in front of an integrated audience in Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall.

Responding dramatically, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR and with her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, arranged for Anderson to performed an open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.

Now, 75 years after that historic concert, Wanda Houston, a Grammy nominated singing artist (above) who makes her home in Canaan, will introduce a 21st-century audience to the power to Anderson’s history in “Diva of Danbury,” a show slated for Saturday, May 10, at the Palace Theatre in Danbury. Anderson was a resident of Danbury during the final decades of her life and her home there, Marianna Farm, has been placed on the national Register of Historic Places. Her studio is located on the grounds of the Danbury Museum.

The show is co-sponsored by the Danbury Museum and Historical Society.

Ms. Houston will present a vocal and narrative history of Marian Anderson’s life, performing the signature opera arias and favorite Negro spirituals of Ms. Anderson. Ms. Houston’s diverse talents have taken her from the stages of her hometown in Chicago to both on and off Broadway in New York, appearing in productions of “A Street Car Named Desire,” “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “Nunsense,” “Hair,” “Kiss Me Kate,” and “Sisterella” for which she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination by the NAACP.

In performing Anderson’s opera arias Ms. Houston will come full circle to her own origins. In her youth she performed with her father’s theater company in Chicago and sang with her mother, brother and sister in the Houston Singers. Despite this background, she foresaw a different future for herself and started by studying chemistry in college.

“I thought I would study genetics,” she confessed, “but my own genetics had a different plan.”

She eventually received a BA in vocal performance with a concentration in opera. Moving to LA, she received a private scholarship in opera at USC but decided instead to continue her work on the musical theater and concert stages.

As she relates the story, she was working on her audition material for the Metropolitan Opera when she found herself listening to another prospective candidate rehearsing. “All this planning was going on around me and I had to stop and say, ‘That’s not for me,’” she said. “Even though I had a degree in opera I had to think, “Is this the life I want. Do I want a life of that discipline? I respect that discipline and I didn’t want to do a disservice to the art.”

See the full story at The Litchfield County Times.

 

Grammy Nominee's Show to Recall 'Diva of Danbury', Marian Anderson

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