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$25 million gift from Richard Worley and Leslie Miller renames concert hall to honor contralto Marian Anderson, a civil rights icon
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$25 million gift from Richard Worley and Leslie Miller renames concert hall to honor contralto Marian Anderson, a civil rights icon

The Philadelphia Orchestra is renaming its home bearing the corporate moniker to Marian Anderson Hall to honor the pioneering Black American contralto.

Anderson, who died in 1993 at age 96, was born in Philadelphia. In 1955, she became the first Black singer to appear at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

The orchestra announced the name change a day after the 127th anniversary of her birth.

In 1939, Anderson, 42, already was famous throughout the United States and Europe. It was then that the Daughters of the American Revolution, owners of Constitution Hall in Washington, refused to allow the contralto to perform in their auditorium because of the color of her skin.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of the DAR, resigned from the organization in protest.

On April 9, 1939, Anderson performed a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000 people of all races.

“The legacy of Philadelphia native Marian Anderson is inscribed in the modern history of civil rights in America, and in musical history—from the prejudiced rejection of her artistry to the knowledge that she was one of the greatest voices of the 20th century,” Music and Artistic Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin said in a statement.

“Because she was denied the right to sing, Americans were denied the right to hear her extraordinary gifts. For years, The Philadelphia Orchestra and I have dedicated ourselves to creating a more representative art form through the music we perform. Now, we are proud to take this even further, to honor Marian Anderson with the first major concert venue named in her honor—and one of only a few in the world named for an artist—and we will perform with the joy of her ongoing presence in Marian Anderson Hall,” Nézet-Séguin’s statement continued.

Anderson’s niece, Ginette DePriest, the wife of late conductor James DePriest, told The Associated Press her aunt would be humbled by the honor.

“She always used to say: ‘Don’t make any fuss about this,’ but I think that the fact that it’s her hometown that she adores — I think she would be obviously honored but mostly humbled by by this gesture” DePriest said.

From 1999 through 2023, as part of a $14.5 million contribution agreed to by Bell Atlantic Corp. before its name change in 2000 to Verizon Communications Inc., the orchestra’s auditorium in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts was known as Verizon Hall.

A $25 million gift from Richard Worley and wife Leslie Miller, who live in suburban Bryn Mawr, will underwrite the name change. Worley joined the orchestra’s board in 1997 and served as its president from 2009-20; Miller was on the Kimmel Center board from 1999-2008, serving as acting president. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center united in 2021.

“A tribute to Marian Anderson of this nature, we think it’s long overdue,” Miller said. “She was an iconic artist and she fought discrimination at every turn with grace and grit and kept on going. She deserves this kind of recognition.”

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