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S36 Ep2

Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands

Premiere: 2/8/2022 | 00:01:04 |

Discover an international singer who captivated royalty in Europe and defied the conscience of 1939 America. Watch rare archival footage and hear audio recordings exploring her life and career from the Metropolitan Opera to the State Department.

Premiere: 2/8/2022 at 9PM
PBS   •   PBS Video App

About the Episode

American Masters – Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands explores the life, career, art and legacy of the African American contralto and civil rights pioneer in her own words using archival interview recordings. Marian Anderson’s singing and speaking voice are heard throughout the documentary, providing new understanding of the woman behind the music. Directed by Emmy- and Peabody Award-winner Rita Coburn, American Masters – Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands premieres nationwide Tuesday, February 8 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app in honor of Black History Month and Anderson’s 125th birthday (February 27, 1897).

Spotlighting Anderson’s voice and point of view, the documentary draws from 34 cassette tapes of interviews recorded in the 1950s, when she was preparing to write her memoir, “My Lord, What a Morning,” and other archival interviews. Anchored by key performances in her career, American Masters – Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands shows how her quiet genius and breathtaking voice set the stage for Black performers in classical music, and a louder voice for civil rights. Additionally, with unprecedented access to the Marian Anderson Estate, the documentary draws on rare audio recordings, photographs and personal correspondence to and from family and friends, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes.

“Previous documentaries centered around her life without her own voice. That’s what sets our documentary apart,” said director Rita Coburn. “Marian Anderson directly discusses her personal experiences, allowing the viewer to explore history from her point of view.”

The film also features new interviews with fellow Black opera singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and tenor George Shirley, who also served on the film’s team of humanities advisers. Additional interviews include Anderson’s friends, contemporaries and those she influenced, including J’nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano), Angela Brown (soprano), Martina Arroyo (soprano), Sandra Grymes (Anderson’s niece), Laura Roosevelt (Eleanor Roosevelt’s granddaughter), Raymond Arsenault, Ph.D., (Author, “Marian Anderson: The Sound of Freedom”) and Jillian Pirtle (National Marian Anderson Museum).

Best known for her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, Anderson christened the Washington, D.C., landmark as a place of protest after she was discriminated against on the basis of a “whites only” concert policy at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall. She garnered interracial support from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the NAACP, Howard University and other leaders and defied the conscience of her time by performing for an integrated audience of over 75,000. The concert reached millions of radio listeners around the world and became an inspiration to the growing civil rights movement, inspiring a 10-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr., to later publish a winning oratorical citing the experience.

Affectionately known to audiences as “The Lady from Philadelphia” and “The People’s Princess,” Anderson’s career was propelled by her talent, but also steered by the limits imposed by racism and segregation. This gifted pioneer, whose strength was rooted in family and community, overcame humiliation, prejudice and financial hardship to become a voice for justice, an internationally renowned master of her craft and the first African American to sing a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955. Balancing her public triumph with her personal struggles and resilience, American Masters – Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands charts the impact of one of the world’s greatest singers, whose career provides a window into a time of seismic cultural change.

“Marian Anderson’s legacy creates a bridge as our society continues to sound the call for justice, recognition, reconciliation and the confrontation of racism in order to create lasting change,” said Coburn. “Her ability to create, cull and navigate a worldview, having been born in 1897 and facing down Jim Crow, gives us both hope and yet begs the question: how long will America divide itself along racial lines?”


Funder Logos
American Masters – Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands is a co-production of RCW Media Productions, Inc., American Masters Pictures and ITVS in association with Wavelength, Artemis Rising, Black Public Media and Philip Gittelman Productions. Executive Producers: Michael Kantor, Sally Jo Fifer, Brenda Robinson, Jenifer Westphal, Joe Plummer, Regina K. Scully and Leslie Fields-Cruz. Co-Producers: Lynneisha Ray and Philip Gittelman. Produced and Directed by Rita Coburn.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Funder Logos
Major funding for American Masters – Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding is provided by The Better Angels Society including The Robert F. Smith Family and Mercedes T. Bass, Ford Foundation, Estate of Roland Karlen, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Rosalind P. Walter, Judith & Burton Resnick, The Cheryl & Philip Milstein family, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Seton J. Melvin, Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen & James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation and public television viewers.


(audience applauding) - She was the first African American to make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera.

- She was pursued by nobility and aristocracy.

She enjoyed the life of a diva.

(Marian Anderson singing 'Ave Maria') - Marian Anderson was the first African American artist to be signed by RCA Victor.

- She was performing in Europe for Kings and Queens, and she would come back home to her own country and have to sit at the back of the train.

- In response, she stood flat-footed and she sang.

- Easter Sunday, April 9th, 1939.

- [Marian Anderson] There was a multitude such in your wildest imagination.

- Even though we may not be able to articulate why that person's voice moves us so much because it's speaking to so many different parts of who we are.

That's what her voice had, this incredible power in it to stop a nation.

(crowd applauding)


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