Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Friday, February 26, 2010

Marian Anderson, singing free

Pigs do not know what a pen is for. United States (Black Communities)

1897 – Marian Anderson was born

When I was in my teens, my aunt-mother Ettie took me to hear Marion Anderson at the Ward Theatre in Kingston, Jamaica. This theatre has seating on three levels, and that night I was on the level that felt so high we called it “in the gods”. After climbing all those stairs, I stood for the entire concert. Still, as far as I was concerned, I had the best spot in the house – probably seeing and hearing better than most. Her presence filled the house, and her voice filled my heart then as much as it does now.

Marion Anderson's life showed she did not believe in containment of her talent or herself as a Black woman born just three decades after slavery ended. She was an outstanding singer who performed at concert and recital venues all over the US and Europe. She was also an activist who continually broke barriers for Black artists and stood up for equal rights for all.

In 1955, she became the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

She was active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and sang at the 1963 March on Washington. For many years she was a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the “goodwill ambassador” for the United States Department of State.

Anderson joined her church choir when she was six years old, often performing at local functions. Her family could not afford to send her to high school or to pay for her music lessons, so she sought out opportunities to learn singing from anyone who would teach her for free. She therefore continued her involvement in her church choir and joined other singing groups as well. Eventually, her church and a singing group helped to raise money to allow her to have singing lessons and attend high school.

An all-white music school refused her entry, but she continued her studies nonetheless, with the support of the Black community. In 1925 she won a prize that allowed her to perform with the New York Philharmonic, and this was the start of her career as a singer. She continued to encounter race prejudice in the US, but was a favorite in Europe.

Among her many honors are a United Nations Peace Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

She died at age 96.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at