Marian Anderson was a highly renowned classical singer who became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. She was born on February 27, 1897 to John and Annie Anderson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father ran an ice and coal business and his mother was a babysitter. She came from a devout Christian family, and her earliest exposure to music was through the Union Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. Her family recognized her vocal talents and encouraged her to sing and perform. They bought her a piano but could not afford to pay for lessons, so Marian taught herself to play and joined the church choir at the age of six. Her aunt Mary was also a choir singer, and she encouraged her niece by taking her along to performances at church, the YMCA and any other benefits and community events. Marian was paid 25 cents for her performances as a child, which increased to $5 by the time she was a teenager.
As her exposure and interest in music grew, Marian became more confident as a performer. Her father died in a mining accident when she was 12, so the family moved in with her grandparents. Her grandfather had been a slave who had been emancipated in the 1860s, and Marian was very close to him. She attended Stanton Grammar School, from where she graduated in 1912. She could not afford formal lessons, but joined various groups such as the Baptists’ Young People’s Union and the Camp Fire Girls where she got opportunities to develop her talents. She attended South Philadelphia High School, from which she graduated in 1921.
She was denied admission to the Philadelphia Music Academy due to racial segregation, but this left her undaunted. She took private lessons with the noted teacher Giuseppe Boghetti, for whom she auditioned and he was duly impressed and agreed to take her on as a student. She received immense support from the Philadelphia black community, who raised funds for her to be able to continue her musical education. In 1925, she won the first prize in a singing competition sponsored by