Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Bibliographic Data:

Freedman, Russell. 2004. The Voice that Changed a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle For Equal Rights. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0618159762

Plot Summary:

In this biography, Freedman looks closely at the life and times of Marian Anderson, an amazing African-American vocalist who used her music as a way to impact the social inequities of society during the Civil Rights Movement. With her immense talent, Marian Anderson performed concerts in the most amazing venues. Nonetheless, she was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall because of her race. With the help of many, including well-known citizens such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed a concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial, showing everyone that race should not play a role the arts. This concert drew thousands of people and became a symbol of the “struggle for equal rights” (p. 71).

While a focus of Freedman’s book was on this concert specifically, he also includes much background and many details about Anderson’s life prior to and after this concert. He interweaves her personal experiences with the details framing the social and political events of the day, allowing the reader to get a full glimpse of Marian Anderson and the impact she had as an African-American artist who paved the way for greater equality in future generations.

Critical Analysis:

Freedman’s coverage of Anderson’s life is complete, covering not only her performance at the Lincoln Memorial, but also her struggles and successes before and after. By looking at all aspects of her life – from her childhood beginnings as a singer to her final performance – Freedman gives a more accurate portrayal of Anderson and impact that she has had on society as a performer and as an advocate for equality.

Freedman includes numerous sources for the many quotations that are included in the book, dedicating an entire chapter to notes that are indicated in each individual chapter. Additionally, he follows up his own story of Marian Anderson’s life with a bibliography that includes not only sources that he has used in writing the book, but also further resources (including websites) that the reader can use to explore her life even more. Also, since Marian Anderson impacted society through song, it is most appropriate that Freedman include a selected discography of some of her works, allowing the reader the opportunity to explore the artist and her craft in more detail. Furthermore, there are a multitude of photographs included in this book, giving the reader a more accurate sense of the historical and societal times discussed throughout the book. By including captions to the photographs, Freedman adds another layer of understanding and accuracy to the story he is telling.

The book opens with a chapter that highlights Anderson’s performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. By choosing this event to open the book, Freedman emphasizes the importance of this event and organizes the rest of the book in relation to this milestone. After this brief opening chapter, Freedman returns to an earlier part of Anderson’s life and tells her fascinating journey as a singer from there. The photographs align chronologically with the details presented in each chapter, thereby providing the reader with an additional way to follow along with the story and dates.

This book is designed quite well, with the cover highlighting Anderson’s performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In addition to photographs, the incorporation of song lyrics, program replicas, and copies of newspaper clippings helps make the story being told more relevant and engaging for the reader. These details help tell the story of Marian Anderson and her struggles in a more efficient manner.

Freedman’s style comes across in this book loud and clear, as he has a knack for telling Anderson’s story in a familiar, yet historically accurate manner. He interweaves historical facts along with poignant quotations about Anderson’s personal life to present a clear story that leaves the reader engaged and awed by Anderson and her life.

Review excerpts:

VOYA – “A masterful biography…the prose is sharp and clean with generous use of quotations…a superb choice.”

School Library Journal – “This inspiring work once again demonstrates Freedman’s talent for showing how a person’s life is molded by its historical and cultural context.”

Booklist – “In his signature prose, plain yet eloquent, Freedman tells Anderson’s triumphant story…”

Personal Reaction:

History really came alive through this book, as it touched on a critical era in America while building on the rich musical heritage of our country. Marian Anderson’s life was presented in such a fascinating way that I felt like I was a part of that time in history.


· Listen to one of Marian Anderson’s cds. Write a review about the music and her strengths as an artist.

· Choose one Marian Anderson’s concerts to research. Do additional research to learn about the venue, the songs, etc., so you can create a program that represents that concert specifically.

· Write a letter of support to Marian Anderson, explaining what part of her life intrigued you the most.

· Imagine you were in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. Write a personal narrative about what you might have seen and heard that day.

· Research the Daughters of the American Revolution and create a presentation that explains the role they played in American society in the early 20th century, including their policies and practices that impacted the civil rights of minorities.

Related Readings

Other Books by Russell Freedman
Lincoln: A Photobiography

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery

Children of the Great Depression

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Civil Rights Movement and Marian Anderson
When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan

What I Had Was Singing: The Story of Marian Anderson by Jeri Ferris

One More River to Cross: An African American Photograph Album by Walter Dean Myers

No comments: