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Marian Anderson Museum in Philadelphia aims to reopen in late spring after flood damage

Marian Anderson Museum in Philadelphia aims to reopen in late spring after flood damage
Marian Anderson Museum in Philadelphia aims to reopen in late spring after flood damage 02:38

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Marian Anderson Historical Society & Museum in Philadelphia will hold its annual winter concert next month. The fundraiser will support efforts to rebuild after the house the famed opera singer lived in was severely damaged in a flood.

The CEO of the museum is determined to preserve Anderson's Philadelphia roots and her legacy.

"I feel a strong weight on my shoulders every day of my life," Marian Anderson Museum CEO Jillian Patricia Pirtle said. "That this building would stand, that this legacy would continue."

Pirtle is in the middle of the renovation project of her life. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, a pipe burst at the museum and historical society located on Martin Street in Philadelphia's Graduate Hospital neighborhood. The house was left with half a million dollars in water damage.

CBS News Philadelphia

The opera singer was most famous for her 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Because she was Black, she was denied access to Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. So, President Franklin D. Roosevelt let her perform at the landmark. The concert was attended by 75,000 people.

The hope is young people who will return to the museum soon will be inspired by Anderson's story.

"They can say, 'I, too, can be a young tenor, I can be a baritone bass, I can be a contralto or soprano, I can be a historic figure that can help change the world,'" Pirtle said.

At the height of her career in a segregated U.S., Anderson had to go overseas to find steady work, but she always considered Martin Street in Philadelphia to be home.

The house dates back to 1857. Anderson paid $4,000 for it in 1924 in cash.

After she died in 1993, the home was purchased by the late Blanche Burton-Lyles, who founded the museum and got the property listed on the national and Philadelphia registers of historic places.

CBS News Philadelphia

"It'll look great when it's done," Ken Socie with C. Erickson & Sons said. "Absolutely."

The restoration work includes not only restoring Anderson's house, but also her designer dresses, like one dating back to 1928 - she wore it on the cover of one of her records, "Softly Awakes My Heart."

Other Anderson treasures like her Steinway grand piano are also being restored.

"We are sitting in the home where incredible artists such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Louie Armstrong and more broke bread with Marian Anderson at her invitation," Pirtle said.

"Because during the times of Jim Crow and segregation in the United States, and even in Philadelphia," Pirtle added, "these incredible artists weren't able to get restaurant seating in Center City or Philadelphia proper."

Museum officials hope to reopen the museum late spring 2024.

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