To honor Marian Anderson (1897-1993), one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th century, and her illustrious career, the Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and the Departments of Music and Africana Studies have organized the one-day symposium, “Sound, Gender, and the Color Line,” that will take place on October 26th. This will be the first symposium in honor of the singer and will mark the 25th anniversary of her death. Anderson was a legendary African-American contralto and Philadelphia native who broke racial barriers throughout her long career. She is remembered especially for her Easter 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert facilitated by then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied Ms. Anderson access to Constitution Hall’s stage. In recognition of her legacy, this symposium seeks to explore Anderson's musical career in the context of the intersection of Sound Studies, Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, and Performance Studies. Conference organizers hope the event will engage Penn students with the Anderson archive and stimulate the Philadelphia community to consider Anderson’s life from a new angle.

Anderson is an especially prominent and meaningful figure at Penn. The Penn Libraries houses the Marian Anderson Music Study Center as well as the archive of her papers (ca. 500 boxes, 1900-1993) and a collection of photographs (100 albums and boxes, 1898-1992). The Music Department benefits from a fund in Anderson’s name, which contributes to undergraduate music lessons.

Eight scholars from around the country will be visiting to offer original and cutting-edge research on the singer, with topics touching on biography, reception, and influence. Confirmed speakers include Naomi Andre (University of Michigan), Kira Thurman (University of Michigan), Carol Oja (Harvard), Ellie Hisama (Columbia), and Guy Ramsey (Penn). An interview of legendary mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar and a performance by Philadelphia-native soprano Karen Slack will also take place at the symposium. Throughout the event, guests will be able to view an exhibition of items from the Penn Libraries’ vast Marian Anderson archival collection. The day before, on Oct. 25th, the library will be hosting schoolchildren from Stanton Elementary, Ms. Anderson’s alma mater, highlighting an exhibit and other learning materials for them.

The symposium organizers hope the event will have several outcomes: to engage students with the Anderson archive; to stimulate the Philadelphia community to newly consider Anderson’s life and times; to create a tradition of interdisciplinary and inter-institutional reflection on the issues at hand, in the context of library holdings; and to result in a publication of the proceedings of the event in a national journal or edited volume, thus extending the reach of the event on a national and international scale.

The event is made possible through support from the Thomas Sovereign Gates Fund, the Eugene Ormandy Library Fund, the Kislak Center for Special Collections, the Center for Africana Studies, the Department of Music, the Center for Italian Studies, the Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality, and Women, the University Research Foundation, and the School of Arts and Sciences.

"Sound, Gender, and the Color Line" is free, open to the public, and will take place on thesixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. To register please visit: