Russell Freedman takes the reader through the life of Marian Anderson in the biography entitled The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Marian's story teaches the reader not only about the civil rights struggle for African Americans, including civil rights vocabulary, but also teaches us musical terms to help us better understand Marian's singing career. Freedman brings Marian to life for the reader, accentuating characteristics the reader can relate to. Everyone knows what it is like to feel left out and Freedman is able to bring that to the surface for every reader but at the same time drive home the seriousness of segregation, discrimination and racism that was present in the time when Marian was full blown into her singing career. Marian Anderson is not one of the first African Americans you hear about when you study the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, however her story is quite a remarkable one that could easily be used as an extension or even a focal point of a unit on Civil Rights.
Teachers: Here are some resources and ideas to help you teach this book or teach about Marian Anderson in your classroom...
- The Marian Anderson Historical Society: This website offers further information on Marian Anderson as well as a foundation that has been set up in her honor. For uses in the classroom, you will find many pictures of Marian Anderson as well as files of music so your students can listen to her sing.
- Online Bibliography: An extensive online bibliography can serve as an extension to The Voice That Challenged a Nation.
Vocabulary: I found a lot of different genres of vocabulary that could be taught in connection to this biography. Genres I will include are: civil rights/government, music, pre-teach words.
Civil Rights/Government: Daughters of the American Revolution, Lincoln Memorial, Consitituation Hall, patriotic, prejudice, discrimination, Jim Crow laws, segregation, controversy, petition, bigotry, Gettysburg Address, marshal, decreed
Music: vocal range, timbre, contralto, tenor, soprano, handbills, repertory, arias, gala concert, audition, nuances, lieder, linguistic, National Symphony Orchestra, Washington Opera Company, impresario, phonograph, forte, impresario
Pre-Teach: imperious, credentials, impetus, reputable, languished, brocade, patrons, prominent, incendiary, resignation, furor, architect, itinerary, annihilation
Across the Curriculum:
- Marian Anderson Lessons: This website offers 9 different lesson plans connected with Marian Anderson. These could be used to connect across the curriculum being that some are music lessons and others are social studies lessons. You may want to look through all of the lessons and pick out the best ideas and activities to make your own optimal lesson about Marian Anderson to tie into The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights.
- Music: have students study the musical vocabulary in this book and listen to recordings by Marian Anderson. Students may respond to the music in written form, or for students who enjoy performing music encourage them to perform a song for the class that Marian Anderson had performed in the past such as "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" or "My Country Tis of Thee." See lesson link above for further ideas.
- Social Studies: tie this book into a lesson about Civil Rights. Marian Anderson's biography will offer a story that most students will probably never have heard that differs from the typically taught Civil Rights leaders. See lesson link above.
Before Reading: Give students an anticipation guide that asks multiple choice or true/false questions about the Civil Rights Movement. By gauging how much the students already know about the Civil Rights movement, you can make a better judgment as to how much you need to pre-teach important vocabulary associated with this biography.
During Reading: While students are reading, or while you are reading to students, have comprehension questions prepared so that at certain points, maybe after each chapter, students can discuss in small groups what has happened so far in Marian's life. Being that this book is about Marian's life and is therefore sequential a type of flow chart graphic organizer may be helpful to students during reading as well.
After Reading/Writing: Ask students to chose a time in the biography when Marian was rejected because of the color of her skin. Have students write a journal entry either in the perspective of Marian expanding on how they infer she must have felt or have students connect Marian's experience to a time they felt left out, comparing and contrasting the two events. The point of both of these types of journal entries is for students to develop empathy for African Americans in the times during and before the Civil Rights Movement.
Freedman, R. (2004). The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. New York: Clarion Books.
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award