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How racism affected Marian Anderson’s vocal classification

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Marian Anderson was billed as a contralto, the lowest possible female voice, even though she could also sing the high notes of a soprano. “I believed that Marian Anderson was not classified as a soprano is because that would mean that she would be the love interest of a white counterpart, which was not accepted at all at the time,” said opera singer Denyce Graves.

TRANSCRIPT

- Although she had a three octave range, she sang in the contralto mode.

- Contralto, being the lowest possible female voice.

She could sing that to break your heart into a million pieces, but she also had a great top.

She had a great high C.

And her voice could live above the staff, meaning in soprano territory.

- [Marian] I don't feel that the singing a high C was any trouble at all, to me it was a lark.

(piano music) (Marian vocalizes) One did not confine herself to being either soprano or contralto or anything else.

But one was billed as a contralto.

- In the operatic world, the sopranos always are the leading ladies.

I've sung some of Marian Anderson's pieces and they were out of my tessitura, meaning they were out of my range.

And my voice is classified as a higher voice than hers.

It's one of the reasons that I believe that Marian Anderson was not classified as a soprano, is because that would mean that she would be the love interest of a white counterpart, which was not accepted at all at the time.

(piano music)

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