Department Of Interior

DOI News Header
Office of the Secretary
Contact:John Wright
For Immediate Release:Feb. 24, 2004

Interior Department Gives Special Designation to Historic Piano in Observance of African American History Month

Program Observance in Memory of Prominent African American
Opera Singer Marian Anderson


WASHINGTON - In observance of African American History Month, Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton conferred a special historical designation on the Steinway Model B Grand Concert Piano in memory of the late Harold L. Ickes, secretary of the Interior, and the prominent African American opera singer, the late Marian Anderson. The piano was purchased on April 14, 1937, while Harold L. Ickes served as secretary of the Interior and Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

"African American History is a book filled with many unexplored chapters," Norton said. "These important chapters illustrate the contributions African Americans made in the shaping of this nation. Let us appreciate this opportunity and build on it for the future."

In making the special historic designation, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson noted that the piano gained significance in African American history in 1939 and again in 1943 when it was used to accompany the prominent African American opera singer, Marian Anderson. When Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because of her race, Interior Secretary Ickes arranged for Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial and the Interior Department.

On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, the revered opera singer performed before an estimated crowd of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. Later that evening she performed again in the Interior Department's auditorium. Among the distinguished guests and the public at that Sunday evening performance were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Interior Secretary and Mrs. Ickes; U.S. Supreme Court justices; members of the U.S. Congress; presidential Cabinet heads; Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University; DOI Directorates; and DOI bureau directorates.

Marian Anderson again was accompanied by the history-making piano when she performed at the DOI auditorium on Jan.6, 1943. This special performance dedicated a

mural depicting Anderson's performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Among the
distinguished guests at the Marian Anderson mural unveiling were Charles Houston, acting dean of the Howard University Law School, who presented the mural; Secretary Ickes, who accepted the mural for the government; and Oscar Chapman, assistant secretary of the Interior. Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes invited and arranged for Anderson to perform on all three occasions.

In addition to the special designation of the DOI piano, the national theme for this year's observance African American History Month is "Brown v. Board of Education (50th Anniversary)." The program featured an overview of African American History and the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education by Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, followed by a presentation titled "Yosemite Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier, 1904," by Shelton Johnson, interpretive park ranger. Renowned pianist Lady Byron and her Jazz Trio provided music during the program.

The African American History Observance Month Program can be viewed here


Selected News Releases