Marian Anderson (1897–1993) is considered one of the most important opera performers of the 20th century.

The celebrated contralto was born in South Philadelphia on Feb. 27, 1897, and played a vital role in the acceptance of African Americans in classical music and in other segregated performing arts genre throughout her musical career. She was acclaimed by the great conductor Arturo Toscanini as having a voice “heard once in a century.”

“Once in a Hundred Years, the Life and Legacy of Marian Anderson,” a documentary directed and produced by Bill Nicoletti, traces the arc of Anderson’s life and most notably her struggles against racism and poverty. As noted on the film’s press materials, the movie culminates “with her battle against the Daughters of the American Revolution which led to her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial with the assistance of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson’s quest for equality was one to be heard around the world.”

“This is a true passion project for me. This is an incredible story that needs to be shared with people of all ages and all backgrounds,” said Nicoletti, in a statement. “The immense interest in this film from many different people and organizations has given real voice to Marian Anderson’s important and inspiring journey.”

The film was inspired by Nicoletti’s admiration of and interest in Anderson.

“As Americans, we have seen pictures and heard stories about the American civil rights movement. We know about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. We know the events of Selma and Montgomery and the stories of Dr. King and Malcolm X. But there is one great American story too many of us have never been told. That of a young girl from South Philadelphia who, armed with only a voice, fought to break down one of the most daunting barriers closed to Black Americans in the 1930s — the classical music stage,” Nicoletti continued.

The world premiere of “Once in a Hundred Years, the Life and Legacy of Marian Anderson,” will be Feb. 23, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. at The Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater — just a stone’s throw from where Anderson was born, and on the same street where her plaque is embossed in The Philadelphia Walk of Fame.

The evening will include the film’s debut and a performance by Broadway actress, N’Kenge from the hit play, “Motown,” followed by a Q & A session with director Bill Nicoletti and a panel of scholars, relatives and friends of Anderson. For more information, visit https://www.kimmelcenter.org.

bbooker@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5749

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