Marian Anderson: What I Had Was Singing

My favorite female singer is, and has been since I was a preteen, Marian Anderson, but I didn’t read her biography until I picked up Jeri Ferris’ book. Maybe I was afraid of being disillusioned, that her personality would not match her singing. A more comprehensive biography will undoubtedly reveal human flaws, but there’s no indication of anything that would let me down.

This book is written for younger readers, but this short version is written with an excellent selections of well-described incidents and includes a range of photographs. I’ll read a more comprehensive biography some other time. Jeri Ferris includes the main events of Marian’s life and if I were teaching about Jim Crow laws and discrimination, I’d use it as a teaching tool. From Marian’s first experience on a Jim Crow train to The Daughters of the American Revolution refusing to let her sing in their hall, the history of discrimination is effectively portrayed.

There was the time in Atlantic City, New Jersey when she was honored with keys to the city–and refused a room in a hotel…There was the time in Springfield, Illinois when she sang at the opening of a film on Abraham Lincoln–and was refused a room in the Lincoln Hotel.

Jeri Ferris, What I Had Was Singing

Marion’s mother told her to remember that, always, someone would be watching her and she must base her behavior on that.

Marion remembered hearing, as she walked along a residential street, a woman playing the piano. She peeked through the window and saw that it was a Black woman. She realized that she, too, could learn to play the piano. She found pictures of the keyboard, and taught herself. That woman never knew how the sight and sound of her playing had given one little girl the encouragement and incentive she needed, and coincidentally an object lesson illustrating her mother’s advice.

I’m not sure how the subject came up, but I remember clearly the evening my mother told me about the Daughters of the American Revolution keeping Marian out of their Constitution Hall. Some relative had offered to sponsor me as a DAR member, and my mother was not enthusiastic about it because when she asked whether I’d be interested, she told me about the DAR event and that killed any enthusiasm I might have had. At the time, I thought that snub was recent–in the 1950s; actually it was on Easter Sunday of 1939 that Marian sang at the Lincoln Memorial, by invitation of the Department of the Interior. That outdoor arena allowed 75,000 to hear her, twenty times the capacity of Constitution Hall. How I would have loved to be there! But that was before my time.

For a video on Eleanor Roosevelt’s part in this, and a bit of Marian Anderson’s concert, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwQCRUtzBsU

Marian Anderson, the legendary African-American contralto, sang at the Lincoln Memorial exactly 75 years ago after she was refused a performance at Washington’s Constitution Hall. On Wednesday [2014], young people gathered to commemorate Anderson’s effort to strike out against racism through the power and beauty of her voice. View more from Marian Anderson: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/marian…

Dr. Ida–for the Women of India

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, started as a single-bed clinic, by Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder who served as a missionary for 50 years. Today, it is one of the top-ranked educational, healthcare and research institutes in the country.

The first class of 14 women—taught by Dr. Ida and a few of her associates, with only one microscope, one skeleton, and few textbooks—faced regional end-of-first-year examinations along with men from established government-run medical schools.  Dr. Ida tried to encourage the girls:

     “All anybody can expect of you is to do your best.”
     The girls were not deceived.  “Best” to Dr. Ida meant nothing short of 90 percent.  They huddled on the long, hard seats staring at each other in terrified silence…Examinations according to the British system were matters of educational life or death.
     Ida, herself one of the examiners, met Colonel Bryson in the hall…
     “Ah, Dr. Scudder! So you’ve brought up your first class for examination?”

“Yes.”  Ida smiled at him brightly.
            His face clouded with sympathetic concern.  “My dear doctor, please don’t be discouraged if none of your students makes the grade this first time.”
            “None of them?” echoed Ida bleakly.
            “”It wouldn’t be surprising…only a small percentage of men pass it.  Naturally we couldn’t expect too much of such a young project, especially all women.  But they can always try again.  Promise me you won’t give up, whatever happens.”
            “I promise,” said Ida.  She went on, head held high but heart sinking to the region of her shoes.
            The grim days passed. Huddled in a tight, silent group in the mission bungalow in Madras where they were housed, the girls waited to hear the results.  Lists from various men’s college were posted and read with dismay.  Only about 20 percent—one in five—was passing!
            “And we’re only women!” wailed one of the fourteen in anguish.
            In a note from the considerate Colonel Bryson, Ida learned the results before they were posted. The distance from college to mission bungalow seemed interminable.  She wished it were a tennis court or a racetrack so she could run at top speed and still be considered proper.  But she reached it finally, stood in the doorway of the room where they were waiting. They read the answer in her radiant face.
            “Lambs!”  She held out her arms to them.  “You did it!  Passed. Every single one of you.  And four of you in the first class.  And—can you believe it?  This places our school at the head of all the medical schools in the presidency!” …
            The next time she met Colonel Bryson, he shook his head.  “I’m afraid, Doctor,” he said sheepishly, “that your girls are setting too high a standard for our men to live up to.”
            Ida only smiled.

From  Dr. Ida, The inspiring story of Dr. Ida Scudder, fifty years a medical missionary in India bu Dorothy Clarke Wilson.

I’ve read a couple of Wilson’s other books–I’d like to own every one of them.

Shiloh: A Boy and a Beagle

An abused dog is rescued and the boy who rescues him tries to keep it a secret.

“The reason I don’t like Judd Travers is a whole lot of reasons, not the least is that I was in the corner store once … and saw Judd cheat Mr. Wallace at the cash register.  Judd gives the man a ten and gets him to talking, then–when Mr. Wallace gives him change–says he gave him a twenty.”

Worse yet, Judd kicks his dogs.

Marty will do anything to rescue Shiloh, the beagle who follows Marty home from the “rattly bridge where the road curves by the old Shiloh schoolhouse and follows the river.”  Trouble is, not only does “anything” includes lying, but it risks Shiloh’s life.

It’s Judd who unintentionally hands Marty a solution.  Then Marty, when he’s forced to spend time with Judd, learns that right and wrong aren’t always as simple as the difference between the truth and a lie.

Shiloh is a Newberry Medal book; even better, there are three sequels:  Shiloh Season, Saving Shiloh, and Shiloh Christmas.

Heat, by Mike Lupica

Michael looks too small for his age, and there's a problem with proving his age.

Heat has it all: Baseball at Yankee Stadium–the dream of Little Leaguers who practice within sight of it; Michael and Carlos, determined to keep “Official People” from finding out why Papi isn’t home; Ellie, a girl with a secret; Mrs. Cora who knows something about angels; the Little League coach who doesn’t like kids who pitch better than his son; and Michael’s best buddy, Manny.

Manny told Michael he’d meet him at Macombs…around three o’clock. …that could mean anywhere between three and four.  He operated on Manny Standard Time, and there was no getting around it if you were Manny Cabrera’s friend.   He was loyal, funny, smarter than he let on, loved baseball as much as Michael.  There were so many good points with Manny that Michael couldn’t keep track of them all.

But none of Manny’s good points, not a single one, involved him showing up on time for anything but a real game.

When Michael is barred from Little League and Carlos no longer has a job, it’s looking bad, and suddenly, walking across the field, come the Official People:

It wasn’t just El Grande and Ellie.

Carlos was a couple of steps behind, walking with Mr. Gibbs of ACS.  And another man Michael didn’t recognize, but one who had Official Person written all over him.

Has Michael’s dream become a nightmare?

Like baseball, basketball, and football stories with real-life type characters?  Try Mike Lupica’s The Only Game, and Last Man Out, Lone Stars, Long Shotand others–some of them New York Times Best Sellers.

Hey–I said I’m not into sports.  But I am into  Lupica’s characters.  Just give me a cozy chair and a mug of hot chocolate.

Trapp Family Singers–and a Fly!

When the Trapp Family Singers (Sound of Music) began their U.S. singing tour, they expected audiences who would be impressed by their technical skill and the difficulty of their selections.  Their audiences agreed that they were exceptionally good singers, but that didn’t mean they wanted to listen to a 45-minute-long piece that they knew nothing about!

Their manager said, “There is something you are lacking…something between you and your audience.”

Then came the fly.

The Trapps were finishing a concert of madrigals and motets, Bach and Mozart.  Maria chose a “Jodler”  for the encore.

“In yodeling, one has to take a deep breath and then hold out for long phrases at a time.  We were just in the middle of it when, oh horror!  A fly started circling around my face.  I watched it, cross-eyed, and got panicky,  I knew very soon I would have to take a deep breath, and what if…

“We took our deep breath and it happened.  In went the fly…a good cough would have helped, but to cough the right way on stage is much, much harder than to sing the right way.  I outdid myself in not coughing, but I couldn’t help turning purple.  I happened to have the leading part in this jodler, the melody; but that mountain call had to be finished without it…My brave children tried not to pay any attention to their choking mother, and when they were finished, I was too—with the fly.“

Maria felt she had to apologize.  She announced, “What never happened before has happened now.  I swallowed a fly.”

The audience laughed..and laughed…and laughed.  When they quieted down, she wanted to make up for the spoiled encore with an Austrian folk song.  She explained:  “It describes how a young hunter climbs up in the rocks for hours looking for, and finally shooting, a—”   The animal she meant was a chamois, but instead she said “chemise.*”  Not only the audience, but the rest of the family, shook with laughter.

The missing link had been found–interact with your listeners as if you are at home enjoying a musical party.

  • A chamois is a kind of deer; its hide is the chamois that polishes a car.  A chemise, for those who aren’t familiar with fashion terminology from half a century ago, is a loose-fitting garment that can be a nightgown, underwear, or a simple dress.

 

What Terrorism Feels Like

How one girl stood up for education.

I am Malala, and this is my story…

Terrorism is fear all around you.  It is going to sleep at night and not knowing what horrors the next day will bring.  It is huddling with your family in the center-most room in your home because you have all decided it is the safest place to be.  It is walking down your own street and not knowing whom you can trust.  Terrorism is the fear that when your father walks out the door in the morning he won’t come back at night. ..

And since I had been in the kitchen both times there were [bomb] blasts near our house, I stayed as far from that room as possible.  But how can a person live when she is afraid of a room in her own home?  How can a mother buy food for her family if the market is a war zone?  How can children gather for a game of cricket if a bomb could go off under their feet?”

Malala was 15, in ninth grade, in 2012 when Taliban soldiers shot her in the head because she spoke out for the right of girls to go to school.

In December, 2014, Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize for her stand against extremism and her coinntued fight for the right to education.

“On my eighteenth birthday, I returned to the Syrian border to open a school in Lebanon for refugee children and to demand that world leaders invest in books, not bullets.”

In her autobiography, Malala tells about her childhood, the international team that saved her life when she was shot, her long recovery, and her fight for education.

“It is people’s love and encouragement that gives me the energy to continue my fight.  I will never give up on advocating for peace and education for all.  I want to build schools and make sure there are qualified teachers in as many places as I can.  That is something else that hasn’t changed:  I am the same stubborn girl who will never give up.”