Constitution Hall

The Humble Beginnings of the National Symphony Orchestra

The National Symphony at their inaugural concert on January 31, 1930 (Photo Source: Used with Permission from the NSDAR Archives)

At 4:45pm on January 31st, 1930 the “new and shaky ensemble known tentatively as the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C.” took the stage of the recently finished DAR Constitution Hall at eighteenth and C streets northwest. Conductor Rudolf Schueller and the musicians were welcomed into the hall by vigorous applause from an audience of 2,000 music-loving Washingtonians who eagerly awaited the newly established orchestra’s first notes. Arriving at this moment of glory did not happen easily, or quickly for that matter. While Washington is typically considered a capital of arts and culture today, this was definitely not the case in the early 1900’s.

Marian Anderson in 1940. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Marian Anderson Actually Did Get to Sing at Constitution Hall

In 1939, in what became one of the most painful moments in Washington music history, celebrated African-American singer Marian Anderson was denied an opportunity to perform for an integrated audience at Constitution Hall because of her race. Then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, which owned and operated the concert hall. Anderson's manager, Sol Hurok, capitalized on the First Lady's support to seek federal government approval for the singer give an open-air performance instead.

On April 9 of that year, a crowd of 75,000 people, which included Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to Anderson sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on the memorial's steps. According to the New York Times' account, six microphones carried Anderson's voice to millions of radio listeners throughout the country.