Marian Anderson inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was a world famous African American singer who made history on both sides of the Atlantic with her opera and spirituals. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to Salzburg and Munich, her voice inspired thousands of people with every show. But in order to perform, the American contralto had to face segregation and racial prejudice, both at home and abroad. Her determination to sing – despite opposition and countless hurdles – turned her into a civil rights icon. Some even called her the “voice of the 20th  century“.

Although Anderson grew up in Philadelphia and had a successful music career in the United States, she also spent a significant amount of time in Europe. In the early 1930s, Anderson spent time studying and touring various European countries, including Finland, Sweden, Russia, England and Austria.

In 1935, after a successful performance in Vienna, Austria, Anderson was asked to perform a charity concert at the Salzburg Cathedral as part of the Salzburg Festival. This annual festival drew some of the most talented artists of the time. However, there was growing Nazi sentiment in Austria at this time and festival authorities banned Anderson’s performance. But rather than letting this keep her away, Anderson worked with organizers to hold her very own concert in Salzburg, separate from the official festival. Held at the Mozarteum, her unofficial concert stunned the audience, which grew continuously larger as word of her performance spread through town. A few days later, Anderson performed once more in the Alps. Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini told her she had a “voice head once in a hundred years.”

Despite her talents, Anderson continued to face hurdles in a segregated America. In 1939, Anderson was back in the US and preparing for an Easter Sunday concert in Washington, D.C at the invitation of Howard University. Because of her international reputation, organizers expected the crowd to be enormous. They applied to use Constitution Hall as the concert venue, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. However, “[DAR] refused to allow her use of the hall because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR,” said Anderson biographer Allan Keiler. So instead, Anderson’s historic concert was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the held of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt, drawing a crowd of 75,000 people and making history. Millions of people also tuned in on the radio. Anderson later admitted to being nervous with a crowd size that large, saying, “I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now.”

Marian Anderson performs at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. ©dpa
A crowd gathers on the National Mall to hear Marian Anderson sing on Easter morning. ©dpa

Although the concert at the Lincoln Memorial was one of Anderson’s most well-known performances, her popularity only continued to grow and she found herself performing all over the world – including Germany.

A few years after the end of the Second World War, Anderson returned to Europe and continued to perform. The concerts she held in Berlin and Munich in 1950 were some of the “most gratifying”, according to her biography. And the German people were blown away by her talents. After her concerts, The Neue Zeitung wrote “…in critical places one is surprised by a wonderfully accomplished phrase or even a single tone in which her soul seems to open. From such moments the whole song achieves a new illumination.”

Marian Anderson performs at a university in Munich, Germany on June 6, 1950. ©dpa

Throughout her career, Anderson became an important figure in the Civil Rights era. She became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. She became a Goodwill Ambassador for the Department of State. She sang at the 1957 inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. She participated in the Civil Rights movement and found herself at the steps of the Lincoln once again when she performed at the 1963 March on Washington. She also won numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Marian Anderson was an inspiration to millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic.

This blog is part of our larger series for Black History Month. During Black History Month, we are not only highlighting Germans of African descent (see our blog here), but also black Americans who have inspired Germans across the Atlantic, and across the years.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Frederick Douglass inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

Frederick Douglass inspired Germans, and he inspired our team at the German Embassy. Here’s how.

Frederick Douglass fled slavery in 1833, and went on to become one of the most important figures in American History. As a notable abolitionist, he advised, lobbied, criticized, and befriended president Abraham Lincoln. To this day, his thoughts on the merits of the US Constitution and founding ideals, such as those found in his famous speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” continue to influence and challenge thinkers.

After the Civil War, he held high office in the District of Columbia and the US Federal Government, always advocating for equality for all Americans, regardless of race or gender.

Americans weren’t the only to notice the ideas and dynamism of this self-made man. Ottilie Assing, German feminist, journalist and abolitionist, befriended Douglass in 1856 after reading his autobiographical work, “My Bondage and My Freedom,”. As a German of Jewish decent, Assing found herself interested in the parallels in the struggle against discrimination in the United States, in which Douglass played a major role.

Continue reading “Frederick Douglass inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth”

Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who touched the lives of billions of people around the globe. Someone that every child learns about in school. As a leader of the American Civil Rights movement, he organized peaceful protests that led to the end of legal segregation in the United States.

But even in Germany, Dr. King’s words impacted countless people.

In September 1964 – one year after his historic “I Have a Dream” speech– Dr. King was invited to Berlin to attend a memorial ceremony for President John F. Kennedy, who had recently been assassinated. At the time, Berlin was newly divided with the foundations of the Wall having been built only three years earlier.

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Dr. King accepted the invitation from West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. And on September 13, 1964, Dr. King addressed an audience of 20,000 Germans at the Waldbühne stadium in West Berlin.

“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” he told the crowd. “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

Part of the Berlin Wall in its early stages. ©dpa

Continue reading “Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth”

9 Germans of African descent who changed the world

In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 9 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Steffi Jones

Steffi Jones is inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame. © dpa / picture alliance

Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.

Haddaway

© dpa / picture alliance

We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.

Isaac Bonga

© dpa / picture alliance

Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.

Continue reading “9 Germans of African descent who changed the world”

John Lewis Inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

John Lewis inspired Germans, and he inspired our team at the German Embassy. Here’s how.

During the civil rights movement John Lewis stood for human dignity and rights, even at great personal risk. As part of SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, he participated in sit-ins at lunch counters, a series of peaceful protests against racial segregation at restaurants and eateries. He helped organize, and was beaten and arrested during the “Freedom Rides”, in protest of segregation during travel. As Chairman of SNCC, he organized the 1963 March on Washington alongside Dr. King and other leaders.

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As a congressman from Georgia’s 5th District, which includes Atlanta, Representative Lewis brought his passion for civil rights, racial and social justice to the United States Congress. For over three decades, he treated his colleagues and staff with respect while advocating for his constituents. Even in his final opinion piece, published the day of his death in the New York Times, he called on Americans to stand up for justice through “good trouble, necessary trouble”.

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His final message to Americans: “Together, you can redeem the soul of our nation,” did not go unnoticed outside the USA. Nightly news broadcasts and leaders from around the world repeated his words, spoke to his influence, lauded his life dedicated to justice, with malice towards none. As the world paused, so too did many Germans.

Continue reading “John Lewis Inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth”

9 Germans of African descent who changed the world

In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 10 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Steffi Jones

Steffi Jones is inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame. © dpa / picture alliance

Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.

Haddaway

© dpa / picture alliance

We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.

Isaac Bonga

© dpa / picture alliance

Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.

Continue reading “9 Germans of African descent who changed the world”