Marian Anderson

American Contralto Marian Anderson
11 Nov 1936, London, England, UK — Original caption: 11/11/1936-London, England- Miss. Marian Anderson, American negro contralto, is pictured a[s] she arrived at Victoria Station here to keep an engagement at famed Queen’s Hall. Miss Anderson was once told by the Great Toscannini, “A voice like yours is heard once in a hundred years.” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS\

[A stunning photograph of Marian Anderson – that style and smile! – obtained from the excellent blog Vintage Black Glamour ( Reproduced here with original citation and title as found on Vintage Black Glamour.*]

Today’s HH post is in tribute to the incredibly talented (and absolutely gorgeous!) Marian Anderson, a Black American contralto singer. Born in 1897, she became central to the fight against racial oppression suffered by Black artists in the United States during the twentieth century. In April 1939, Anderson performed an Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Washington, DC) in response to her being banned by the Daughters of the American Revolution from performing to an integrated audience. She later went on to become the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, doing so in January 1955. While establishing herself as one of the most eminent classical musicians and singers in the United States of the twentieth century, she simultaneously fought for the rights of Black Americans by taking part in the Civil Rights Movement (including singing at the 1963 March on Washington).

[“Marian Anderson Sings at Lincoln Memorial.” Uploaded March 26, 2010 to YouTube.]

Anderson is just one of the many, many Black artists who utilized their craft to advocate for the rights of Black Americans across the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. She was not only astoundingly talented as a singer, but also a fierce freedom fighter for the duration of her life. Marian Anderson was a woman who used her voice to its fullest potential, to both bring us beauty through song and to embolden us to fight against oppression.

~ M


“11/11/1936-London, England- Miss. Marian Anderson, American negro contralto, is pictured a[s] she arrived at Victoria Station here to keep an engagement at famed Queen’s Hall. Miss Anderson was once told by the Great Toscannini, ‘A voice like yours is heard once in a hundred years.'” Gainer, Nichelle. Vintage Black Glamour: Marian Anderson. Post accessed April 8, 2016.

Keiler, Allan. Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002.


*Nichelle Gainer (Vintage Black Glamour) has published a wonderful book, Vintage Black Glamour, and a forthcoming book Vintage Black Glamour: Gentlemen’s Quarters, both of which can be purchased here: We encourage our readers to check out her amazing work.


Marian Anderson

Chavela Vargas


[A photograph of Chavela Vargas in later years]

The name Chavela Vargas is an instantly recognizable one across much of Latin America and amongst admirers of the ranchera genre of music most commonly associated with México. Born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela Vargas left her home country at the age of fourteen to live in México, her adopted home where she stayed for the next eight decades of her life.

To those who do not know much about rancheras, a woman singing them might not stick out as anything remarkable. Yet rancheras are a genre that is traditionally supposed to be sung only by men, for an audience of mostly other men. These songs are spaces where men were customarily allowed to express themselves emotionally, albeit so long as they were confined to particular patriarchal rules of behaviour with an assumed heterosexuality. Therefore to have a woman, and moreover a lesbian woman, sing these songs was a radical and subversive act.

Chavela Vargas was known the world over for not only her singing talents, but also for her affairs with women (including the likes of Frida Kahlo, María Félix, and Lola Beltrán) and her alcohol-fueled partying. She often dressed in “men’s” clothing, smoked cigars (a supposedly “masculine” past time), and partied harder than you can imagine. For a period of fifteen years, Vargas disappeared almost completely, leading some to believe she had even died. She was, however, recovering from alcoholism. Although many people knew she was a lesbian, she did not publicly affirm this until the age of 81 in her autobiography Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (2002).

Vargas continues to be a treasured cultural icon across the Americas, and is a key figure in queer Mexican and Central American history. She is important in broader queer history as often queer people of colour, and especially queer people of colour from outside of Canada and the United States, are marginalized or entirely erased from the broader study of queer history. Chavela Vargas passed away at the age of 93 in 2012. Her last words were “I leave with México in my heart.”

~ M


Garsd, Jasmine. “Chavela Vargas, Legendary Ranchera Singer, Dies.” NPR, August 5, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015.

Moser, Benjamin. “Postscript: Mexico’s Majestic Lesbian Chanteuse, Chavela Vargas.” The New Yorker, August 17, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015.

Vargas, Chavela. Y si quieres saber de mi pasado. Madrid: Aguilar, 2002.

Chavela Vargas