The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s choreographer in residence, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, premiered a new performance in response to the museum’s exhibition “One Life: Marian Anderson” on Feb. 3 and 4. The 30 minute performance “paid homage to Anderson’s voice and grace while underscoring the racial barriers she overcame.” It will be repeated at the National Portrait Gallery’s McEvoy Auditorium on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free though registration is encouraged. February is African American History Month.
Said Burgess, “the work was created as a tribute to her as a civil rights icon highlighting the depth and breadth of her sublime artistry which placed her on the premiere stages of Europe and America. I was so pleased with the outcome of the work because I wanted to create a formal work that honored her as the truly outstanding artist and individual she was.”
Contralto Marian Anderson (1897–1993) has been recognized as one of the greatest American singers of the 20th century. She is perhaps best remembered for her legendary performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after segregationist policies barred her from theaters across Washington, D.C.
Anderson continued to break barriers for African-American artists in the U.S., becoming the first black person to perform at the Metroplitan Opera in New York City.
Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Soprano Millicent Scarlett and pianist Jeffery Watson provided the musical backdrop for dancers Aleny Serna, Joan Ayap, Christin Arthur, Felipe Oyarzun Moltedo, Sidney Hampton and Ian Ceccarelli performing sets of solo, duet, trio and quartet dance-suites.
Burgess selected works by composer Johannes Brahams “because these compositions were actually part of Marian Anderson’s repertoire.” The finale featured a stirring rendition, by Ms. Scarlett, of Samuel French Smith’s epic “America” (My Country ‘Tis of Three), emulating Marian Anderson’s signature performance at the Lincoln Memorial.
“In general the music is so rich I wanted to show a wide span of the human experience that we universally all move through. The depth of Marian Anderson’s voice, repertoire and life brought about images of the universal human struggle and condition” said Burgess.
“One Life: Marian Anderson” will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery through May 17. The exhibition is curated by Leslie Ureña, associate curator of photographs. It coincides with two Institution-wide initiatives organized by the Smithsonian, including the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, “Because of Her Story,” and the 2019 celebration of the Smithsonian’s Year of Music. Brief video clips of Marian Anderson’s notable performances will be available for view inside the exhibit room.
View Jeff Malet’s photos from the premiere ‘A Tribute to Marian Anderson’ by clicking on the photo icons below.