Marian Anderson to Appear on the $5 Bill

Marian Anderson

The United States will soon join Sweden, Norway and Australia in featuring a famed opera singer on its currency. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said on Wednesday that the back of the $5 bill is going to be overhauled to include images of the late contralto Marian Anderson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The change, which is slated to tale effect by 2020, comes alongside plans to put Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill, unseating the former President Andrew Jackson.

The Philadelphia-born Anderson (1897-1993) rose from a church choir to become one of the 20th century’s most honored singers and an enduring symbol of overcoming racial hurdles. She made history on April 9, 1939 when she gave a concert before some 75,000 listeners at the Lincoln Memorial, after having been barred from Washington’s Constitution Hall because of her race. (The $5 bill will continue to feature the Lincoln Memorial on its flip side.)

Watch a newsreel of Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial performance:

The U.S. will now join other countries who use their currency as a means of celebrating their cultural heritage. Sweden has two opera singers on its bills: the soprano Jenny Lind, on its 50 Kroner note, and the Wagnerian Birgit Nilsson, on its 500 Kroner note. Neighboring Norway features singer Kirsten Flagstad on its 100 Kroner note. And in Australia, soprano Nellie Melba appears on the $100 bill.

Anderson’s appearance, of course, has other implications. At a time when the classical music field has been criticized in some quarters for not doing enough to promote racial diversity on stage, the change may bring some renewed attention to a pivotal figure in its history.

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