"The Voice That Challenged a Nation" by Russell Freedman, Chapters 1-3

Freedman's meticulously researched biography of vocalist Marian Anderson contextualizes the singer's life within the broader movement for civil rights and equality.

Here are links to our lists for the text: Chapters 1-3, Chapters 4-5, Chapters 6-8

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. animated
    having life or vigor or spirit
    People arrived singly and in pairs and in large animated groups.
  2. throng
    a large gathering of people
    Uniformed Boy Scouts moved through the festive holiday throng handing out programs.
  3. anticipate
    regard something as probable or likely
    Anticipating a huge turnout, the National Park Service had enlisted the help of some five hundred Washington police officers.
  4. racial
    of or related to genetically distinguished groups of people
    They had come on this chilly Easter Sunday to hear one of the great voices of the time and to demonstrate their support for racial justice in the nation’s capital.
  5. controversy
    a dispute where there is strong disagreement
    News of the DAR’s ban had caused an angry controversy and set the stage for a historic event in the struggle for civil rights.
  6. vulnerable
    capable of being wounded or hurt
    For that moment, Marian Anderson seemed vulnerable and alone.
  7. timbre
    the distinctive property of a complex sound
    While her voice had the rich, dark timbre of contralto, the lowest female voice, she had no trouble with the ringing tones of soprano, the highest.
  8. solo
    a musical composition for one voice or instrument
    Soon she was singing well enough to be entrusted with solos when the junior choir performed at the church’s main Sunday service.
  9. vibrant
    vigorous and animated
    She grew up in a poor but vibrant neighborhood, home to Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants and to African American families that had come up from the rural South to seek job opportunities in the city.
  10. sanctuary
    a shelter from danger or hardship
    Blacks worshiped in segregated churches, which provided sanctuary against the pain of discrimination.
  11. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Marian remembered her grandmother Isabella as an imposing woman, tall and imperious, who ruled her family with an iron hand.
  12. devout
    deeply religious
    Marian’s grandfather referred to himself as a Black Jew and practiced his adopted religion in a crowded household of devout Baptists.
  13. credentials
    a document attesting to the truth of certain stated facts
    Years earlier, before her marriage, Anna had taught school in Lynchburg, Virginia, but she lacked the credentials needed to teach in Philadelphia.
  14. embolden
    give encouragement to
    “Soon I was emboldened to establish a minimum of five dollars for an appearance,” she recalled.
  15. expenditure
    the act of spending money for goods or services
    In those days, I was not dressed so grandly that I needed taxis to deliver me to the places where I sang. A trolley car sufficed, and the fare was my only expenditure.
  16. tenor
    the adult male singing voice above baritone
    One of her admirers was Roland Hayes, a young black tenor who appeared often at the Union Baptist Church.
  17. conservatory
    a schoolhouse with special facilities for fine arts
    At the time, most of Philadelphia’s music conservatories accepted white students only.
  18. aria
    an elaborate song for solo voice
    But if she wanted to become a concert artist, she would be expected to perform a variety of songs in their native tongue, including arias from Italian operas, French melodies, and German ballads, or lieder-poems set to music.
  19. self-conscious
    excessively aware of your appearance or behavior
    Her classmates would remember her as a shy and often self-conscious young woman who kept to herself and concentrated on her musical studies.
  20. shabby
    showing signs of wear and tear
    Riding in the shabby Jim Crow car became part of Marian and Billy’s travel routine.
  21. indisposed
    somewhat ill or prone to illness
    You must understand the how and why of what you are doing. If you do, you can give an acceptable performance even when you are indisposed.
  22. complimentary
    expressing praise and admiration
    The next morning the newspaper reviews were not complimentary.
  23. earnest
    not distracted by anything unrelated to the goal
    "[Miss Anderson] should devote more time to earnest, consistent study and less to the concert stage,” said one critic.
  24. rehash
    discuss again; go back over
    But gradually her depression lifted, and as she kept rehashing the Town Hall recital in her mind, she came to realize that much of the criticism was justified.
  25. intimidated
    made scared or fearful as by threats
    No matter what happened, he told her, she must not be intimidated by the clicker.
  26. trill
    a note that alternates with another note a semitone above it
    She must continue singing until she reached the difficult trill at the end of the aria, in order to show off the range and power of her voice.
  27. apprehensive
    in fear or dread of possible evil or harm
    She took her place on the stage, closed her eyes, and began to sing, “with one part of my mind waiting apprehensively for the voice of doom upstairs.”
  28. gaudy
    tastelessly showy
    Marian wore a new powder blue dress, “very smart without being gaudy.”
  29. fiasco
    a complete failure or collapse
    Perhaps deep down there was the painful memory of the Town Hall fiasco.
  30. predominantly
    much greater in number or influence
    And when Marian performed before predominantly white audiences in the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest, reviewers who praised her voice often commented that she did not handle foreign languages well.
  31. nuance
    a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude
    She realized that until she understood the subtle nuances of foreign words, and could pronounce them like a native, she could not hope to sing effectively in other languages.
  32. improvise
    perform without preparation
    Once, during a performance when she was singing in German, she forgot some words and improvised others instead.
  33. linguistic
    consisting of or related to language
    That way, she felt, she could acquire the linguistic skills that would allow her to sing convincingly in languages other than English.
  34. distinguished
    standing above others in character or attainment
    And in any case, as she well knew, an American concert singer who did not study and perform successfully abroad couldn’t hope to have a distinguished career at home.
  35. impetus
    a force that makes something happen
    “My career needed a fresh impetus, and perhaps a European stamp would help.”

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