Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Champions Who Walked Among Us - Article 11- The Ice Breaker



It was three years before the ending of the nineteenth century, as this young infant opened her eyes, to see the light of the world, outside of her mother's womb.  The month, the day, the year,  February 27, 1897, and her birth herald something new, something, which had not happened before, was about to take place.   A seed had been planted in this baby, who would later become  a woman that would cause her to seek the expression of her God-given gift, on  stages outside of her own nation of birth.

What would you do, if you had been given something extraordinary that made you stand out?

Born in the state of Pennsylvania, in a family whose father was self-employed, and whose mother had the opportunity of attending the Virginia Seminary and college in Lynchburg, Virginia, the young girl grew up with a love for music.  It was a special innate gift, a seed that had been laid before she was born into the world,  which would define her life.  Her voice was unusual and began to manifest itself soon,  and her aunt ,who had noticed this peculiar gift, convinced her to join the church choir–– she was only six years old.  It was unusual, this Contralto voice, significantly different from other voices.  Peculiar, because this contralto voice set her apart from others, not only in her race, but across all races of people.  Unaware of the role she would play on the world's stage, the lively young girl, who loved to sing, stood on the side of her aunt  singing duets and travelling wherever her aunt would take her, singing songs of inspiration.
It was her aunt,
  • Who influenced  her childhood career,
  • Who contracted venues such as the YMCA, or concerts at local churches, or local community events,
  • Who made  sponsors  aware of her voice for certain special events they sponsored.
Three weeks before Christmas, tragedy struck. Her father was accidentally hit over the head while working. It was an accident, which came with complications that would demand his life a month later, and the young woman, who was now twelve years old would be left fatherless, along with her two younger sisters.

My lord what a morning,
My lord what a morning,
My lord what a morning,
When the stars begin to fall.
You'll hear the trumpet sound,
To wake the nations underground,
Look in my God's right hand
When the stars begin to fall,
When the starts begin to fall. {1}

Her mother, left with three daughters to bring up, had no time to mourn the loss of her mate.  She moved into the home of her father and mother-in-law, who themselves had already impregnated the history book with their new beginning.  Benjamin Anderson, born before the Civil War, was a freed slave and the first Black African- American to move into a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.
It was her grandfather;
  • Who vaccinated her with the vaccine of equality,
  • Who through the daily doses of self-esteem he poured into her character, built up her self-esteem,
  • Who opened her eyes to see the significance of the gift she had been given,
And The Ice Breaker with the contralto voice was born.

Can't you see her People?

See the young girl being prepared to go on the world stage to change history!
See the young girl as her grandfather  prepares her mentally to greet the world!
See her as she sits at his feet, and he imparts in her the ability to stand with the wind against her face!

The hypothesis that Africans had limited brain capacity was a theory, which circulated for years throughout the scientific community of the United States. That the Negro lacked the ability to take care of himself was one of the main reasons for the continuation of slavery in the Southern parts of the United States. Even though the Negro spirituals, which were born out of  captivity and imprisonment in the South, were beginning to become known, no one had thought that a Negro could sing classics, or sing in another European Language.  That feat was considered impossible––that is until The Ice Breaker came along.

With the passing of her grandfather, one year after her mother had moved in with her and her sisters, finances were sparse in the family, and The Ice Breaker knew she would not be able to attend high school, or take those music lessons  she so desperately needed.
  • What do you when your lack of money stands as an obstacle on the road of your  destiny?
  • How do you deal with the mental anguish you encounter within yourself, the emotional ups and downs, which throw you into a whirlwind of what ifs?
  • Where do you turn when the road does not go any further?
 The Ice Breaker continued to sing. She continued to attend church and sing in the choir.  If she were given the opportunity, she sang at every occasion and every event. The Ice Breaker became, through her obstacles unstoppable, as she strengthened her muscles of faith with the obstacles thrown at her, and a door opened.

As is typical of so many black churches during those times, many young black men and women received the opportunity to study, because their home church supported them, and so it was for The Ice Breaker.  The church stepped up to the plate and provided for her high school, and her singing lessons, and The Ice Breaker was on her way to stardom.

The Ice Breaker was good, in fact, she was more than good, and she had the quality, the talent to be one of the greatest, if only she did not have that unchangeable skin pigment coloration  –– she was black.

She graduated from high school and applied for the Philadelphia Music Academy, which is now the University of Arts. Fortunately for her, they said No.  Her skin pigmentation made her unacceptable for such a renowned music school.  However, the doses of self-esteem she had drunk at her grandfather's feet had given her the bounce back mentality, and the rejection left her undaunted. She just kept going.

Through private studies financed by her church, The Ice Breaker continued with her music lessons.  People like, Guiseppe Boghetti, and  Agnes Reifsnyder, natives of her city, saw the star hanging over her head and reached out to help her, and the divine hand of justice stepped in.  The Ice Breaker begin to rise.
  • 1925 – first Prize at a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic
  • 1925 – First appearance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • 1928 – First appearance at the Carnegie Hall
However, invitations dragged. As soon as a door opened, a slap came her way and she was thrown back – she was black.

What do you do when your gift is throttled by a society that is bathed in ignorance?

The Ice Breaker went to Europe.  The year was 1930, and The Ice Breaker had found her audience. The Europeans enthusiastically welcomed her, and her career took off.  It was here;
  • She would become world renowned,
  • She would meet the Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen, who became her accompanist and vocal coach for many years,
  •  She met Jean Sibelius,
  • She found herself and her music.
What a joy to sing! The Ice Breaker made headlines, and the United States was put to shame.

The Ice Breaker battled racial prejudice almost all of her life, before recognition came from the country where she was born. Yet, this gentle soul had no room for hate, and no room for grudges, she loved the country of her birth and returned to its stages in 1935.

My lord what a morning,
My lord what a morning,
My lord what a morning,
When the stars begin to fall.
You'll hear the sinner moan,
To wake the nations underground,
Look in my God's right hand
When the stars begin to fall,
When the starts begin to fall.{2}

The Ice Breaker swept away all doubts about her ability. Her forgiving heart melted the callous hearts of the people she met, who were still harboring  racial hatred within their hearts.  She had succeeded, or had she really?

It was 1939, and Adolf Hitler was getting ready to execute the most hideous crimes known to humanity. Millions would be murdered, because one man had convinced a nation, they were the superior race.

That  same year the invitation went out to sing at the Constitutional Hall in Washington D.C. to an integrated audience. The District of Columbia was still segregated, and the Black Americans, who were invited to attend, were to sit at the back of the auditorium. It took only minutes for the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) to make history. They declined to let The Ice Breaker sing at the Constitutional Hall – reason declined?  Her skin pigmentation was different from theirs––she was black.
  • Where do you go when there is a roadblock that says no entry without the proper skin color? 
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt led the way as thousands of  women resigned from the DAR.   The First Lady and her entourage, along with the assistance of the NAACP, arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial, and so began the first open-air concert with over seventy-thousand people, and millions who heard the concert on radio.

My lord what a morning,
My lord what a morning,
My lord what a morning,
When the stars begin to fall.
You'll hear the christians shout,
To wake the nations underground,
Look in my God's right hand
When the stars begin to fall,
When the starts begin to fall {3}

It was April 8, 1993, and The Ice Breaker was tired.  She had seen the world and done much. Many of her dearest friends, Albert EinsteinJean SibeliusKosti VehanenSol Hurok, her dear sisters and her husband, who had supported her while  she made history,  had crossed over.

Had she not been the first black woman with the golden contralto voice that travelled the world?  Yes!

 Had she not been the first black woman to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra?  Yes!

 Had she not won the hearts of the Europeans and forever engraved her voice upon their hearts? Yes!

Had she not  returned to her own country to open doors for others of her race who would march on behind her? Yes!

 Had she not stood for freedom and liberty for all when she sang her rendition of My Country Tis of Thee at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 to millions? Yes!

 Had she not forgiven and accepted an invitation four years later from the DAR to sing at Constitutional hall for the American Red Cross? Yes!

 Had she not been a faithful wife to the man who stood behind her with love, encouragement and his full support for forty-three years until his death? Yes!

 Had she not been the first African-American to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York? Yes!

 Had she not sung for Presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy at their inaugurations? Yes!

 Had she not done all that she could to insure the doors of opportunity were opened for all people, regardless of race, creed or color? Yes!

The Ice Breaker looked back, and then she looked up.  

Can't you see her, People, The Ice Breaker, Ms. Marian Anderson, the lady with the golden contralto voice, picked up her garment , and she spread her wings!

She had fulfilled her purpose!  Her job was done, and The Ice Breaker  looked back with a smile upon her face, and she  got up and Walked On!

She Walked On, People, she Walked On!  Ms. Marian Anderson, the woman  with the golden contralto voice, Walked On!
My lord what a morning!

Walk On!  All people wherever you are,
Bound my faith,
Determined to excel!
Walk On!
Though obstacles stand in your way,
Don't stop, keep moving,
One step at a time,
Walk On, People, I say, Walk On!
My lord what a morning!

01 Walk On - Kelli Coffey - Permission requested.

Ciao,
Pat Garcia

{1}  http://www.akh.se/lyrics/my_lord_what_a_morning.htm
{2}  http://www.akh.se/lyrics/my_lord_what_a_morning.htm
{3}  http://www.akh.se/lyrics/my_lord_what_a_morning.htm

1 comment:

  1. Very inspirational. A beautiful voice will last forever....

    ReplyDelete

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