MARIAN ANDERSON / 3rd movement of Cynthia Folio's Philadelphia Portraits: A Spiritual Journey for Piccolo and Piano

III. MARIAN ANDERSON PROGRAM NOTES

"I dearly love Negro Spirituals. They are the unburdenings of the sorrows of an entire race, which, finding scant happiness on earth, turns to the future for its joys."

This movement is a contemporary setting of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” which Marian Anderson recorded (Marian Anderson: Spirituals, RCA Red Seal, 1999).

NEW CHAMBER MUSIC FOR FLUTE

COMPOSED BY CYNTHIA FOLIO

 © Copyright - Cynthia Folio / Bcm&d Records (888174789408)

Philadelphia Portraits: Marian Anderson movement

When I made the trip to the University of Penn Van Pelt library to research Marian Anderson, I was surprised at what I found. In the many letters to her agent, Arthur Judson, there were instances of her wanting to be taken more seriously as an artist by sharing her rave European reviews and asking for more work and better pay in the states, but she never once wrote that she was held back because of her color. While this was clearly the case, it wasn’t mentioned.

Arthur Judson was a powerful presence in the classical music world as agent for the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic and president of Columbia Concerts Corporation (now Columbia Artists Management). Upon his suggestion, Marian Anderson wrote to Frank La Forge, a notable vocal coach of the day, asking if he would accept her as a student (1). He did and from 1925 she studied some of the great arias with him, "making remarkable progress". "My advice to Miss Anderson was that she should go to Sweden and Norway, where I felt she would receive the recognition that she deserved. Whether upon my advice or that of others, Marian went to Scandinavia, where she gave fifty-two concerts, and received great acclaim."(2) 

A musician friend of mine, Yolanda Kulik, shared the following story with me, knowing that my high school flute teacher, Frank Versaci, worked closely with Frank La Forge and Metropolitan Opera soprano Lily Pons.

Yolandas parents, Leonid and Cleopatra Bolotine, were one of the couples in attendance at a private recital given by Frank La Forge. La Forge would invite influential classical musicians to his studio in New York City to hear Marian Anderson and elicit support for her career. After the recital, the Bolotines went up to shake Marians hand and offer her congratulations and support. They were shocked to realize that they were the only ones in attendance to do so, as the racial prejudice ran so deep.

I was both touched and saddened by this story. I offered it to the family and friends gathered to pay respects at Yolanda's funeral. I recently discovered that Leonid Bolotine, who was a very fine violinist, gave a program with Marian Anderson and Frank La Forge that included the great Bach Aria with violin obligato.

I share this story along with my performance of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child as a tribute to Marian Anderson’s struggles and her humanitarianism. 

This Youtube version, possibly taken from her Victor Masterpieces 78, “Marian Anderson Sings Spirituals was the composers and my inspiration. In my performance, I try to imitate the Contraltos intense and majestic yet sorrowful and earthy voice, which uses quick vibrato.

1Allan Keiler, Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey, University of Illinois Press, 2002, p. 121.
2La Forge, Frank and Laura La Forge Webb: Among the Pleiades and Other Stars, Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Company, 1993.