A Singer's Chorus

As a labor of love, a society of two keeps Marian Anderson's voice alive.

Posted:
 
marian

PHILADELPHIA

Both ladies move about rather gingerly. It's all the years behind them. It's the long struggle on behalf of their Marian.

Blanche Burton-Lyles and Phyllis Sims are fiddling with the coffee maker in Marian Anderson's kitchen. "Marian had this whole kitchen put in -- even the bars around the windows -- and it's still quite nice," Burton-Lyles says, moving from the kitchen to a room where there is a life-size portrait of the famous singer.

"What's this?" she says to Sims, picking up a stack of mail. "My goodness. It's the phone bill! Look at this. We gotta pay the phone bill, Phyllis. Folks downtown will turn the phone off!"

Sims shakes her head. It's been a hard road keeping up Anderson's home. Both women, who met the famous opera singer as children, visit the museum site daily. "Ain't nobody gonna turn the phone off," she sighs.

The great contralto used to live in this two-story house at No. 762 on South Martin Street, now known as Marian Anderson Way. She entertained in the basement during those inhospitable years of segregation when she feared what unkind words might ricochet her way in the city's downtown eateries.

The world didn't care much about blocks like this or the people who lived on them before Marian Anderson trooped down to Washington to give a concert at the Lincoln Memorial -- arguably the most famous concert in the city's history.

You might say she sang her way to freedom that day.