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Marian Anderson’s concert dress goes on view in DC
Question of the Day
WASHINGTON (AP) - For the first time, the dress Marian Anderson wore to sing at the Lincoln Memorial 75 years ago after being denied access to a Washington concert hall because she was black, is going on display at the Smithsonian.
On Easter Sunday 1939, the classical singer accepted Eleanor Roosevelt’s invitation to give a public concert and wrapped herself in a fur coat that cold day after she was kept out of Washington’s D.A.R Constitution Hall. Beneath the coat, she wore a striking orange-and-black ensemble and carried herself with pride, historians said.
The outfit she wore to make history was uncovered among the late singer’s belongings and put on display Tuesday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History through September. Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of Anderson’s Easter Sunday performance at the Lincoln Memorial.
Curators learned earlier this year that the dress had been kept hidden away all these years.
“I definitely would have loved to have had something iconic” to represent Anderson, said Dwandalyn Reece, who is building a collection for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “But I just didn’t expect for this to exist.”
The two-piece concert attire is part of a collection recently donated to the museum by Ginette DePreist of Scottsdale, Ariz. DePreist is the widow of Anderson’s nephew, the late music conductor James DePreist.
Ginette DePreist said the dress had been long forgotten. It was among the belongings she salvaged from Anderson’s damp basement at the Connecticut home where the singer lived for 40 years before moving to Oregon to live with the DePreists. Anderson died in April 1993.
In the 1990s, Ginette DePreist decided to wear one of Anderson’s dresses in her honor to a gala performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra and pulled out the orange-and-black ensemble. She had the top remade to replace disintegrated fabric. The original collar, trim and turquoise and black buttons were kept in place.
Smithsonian fashion historian Renee Anderson said the outfit represents a forward sense of fashion after the singer had made a name for herself in Europe. Now it offers a look at how she carried herself, curators said.
“She was very elegant. She was very steadfast, making a statement: ‘Here I am. I do matter. What I do and what I say is important,’” Renee Anderson said.
Anderson didn’t talk much about the famous concert. “I’m not a fighter,” she would say. She had been thrust into the spotlight but didn’t see herself as an advocate.
“The only desire she had at the time was to sing,” DePreist said. “She wanted to be recognized for her voice, her career - and not necessarily that page of history.”
Anderson would become the first African-American to perform at the White House and sang there again when the Roosevelts entertained the king and queen of England. After years of being shut out of opera, Anderson became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955.
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