Preserving a legendary Philadelphia institute

Marian Anderson Museum presents Porgy and Bess

2 minute read
Two singers. Dressed in all black, singing on stage towards the audience.
‘Porgy and Bess’ will take the stage at the Chapel of Four Chaplains. (Photo by Franklin Bryant.)

On Saturday, March 2, 2024, the Marian Anderson Historical Society will host its winter concert at the Chapel of Four Chaplains in the Philly Navy Yard. The Marian Anderson Museum is the original three-story townhouse purchased by Marian Anderson in 1924 from her tour proceeds. The society and the museum were established by Philadelphia resident and Curtis Institute graduate, Lady Blanche Burton-Lyles. It currently resides on the National Register of Historic Places. The society’s annual winter concert will feature George Gershwin’s all-Black opera, Porgy and Bess, to help assist museum costs as unfortunate difficulties have hit the museum.

Reconstruction and revival

In 2021, a flood caused over $500,000 in property damage. Although the museum has received capital and push grant assistance to reconstruct the three-story townhouse, Anderson scholar and museum CEO Jillian Patricia Pirtle revealed the difficulty of maintaining museum events alongside reconstruction. There is much to be done, not just with the “exterior and interior,” but with the artifacts. The historical society’s Facebook page actively tracks the multi-phased restoration process of the Victorian structure, from the original hardwood floor to the detailed porcelain sink. Sadly, supply costs doubled and tripled in recent years in large part because of the pandemic. Currently, the museum lacks heat because their two-year-old boiler followed Anderson into the afterlife, and a new replacement will require over $45,000.

Pirtle herself is not only an administrator but a professional operatic performer and Globy Award winner for national historical preservation. She encountered Anderson as a child, attending an Academy of Music event in 1989, where she witnessed the singer perform. Although Anderson passed four years later, Pirtle was excited to graduate as an adult from the same university that rejected Anderson—the University of the Arts.

The cast of the opera pose together on the stage, with floral arrangements around them
The all-Black opera from George Gershwin will benefit the museum’s recovery. (Photo by Franklin Bryant.)

A timeless favorite

Pirtle describes Porgy and Bess as an "optimal fan favorite. It is ageless. It is timeless.” The 1935 opera from Gershwin tells the story of Porgy, a disabled Black man living on the streets in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina, as he tries to save Bess from a violent lover and a drug dealer. Dr. Jay Fluellen, 2019 Mann Center honoree and Historic St. Thomas choir director, will direct several Anderson scholar artists in the production. Attendees are so eager, one Porgy and Bass aficionado plans on traveling from Atlanta.

Although the museum should open by Fall 2024, consider supporting the museum through its concerts, pop-up events, and donation requests. This is an American landmark featuring an African American virtuoso. Every little bit helps keep this landmark alive. As Pirtle stated regarding reconstruction and maintenance costs, "These are problems that are continuous. We are doing everything we can to survive this."

Anderson's impact certainly reaches beyond Society and the museum, too, as the Kimmel Cultural Campus this week announced that it is rededicating Verizon Hall to become the Marian Anderson Hall this June.

What, When, Where

Porgy and Bess. By George Gershwin, directed by Jay Fluellen. Suggested donation of $40. Saturday, March 2, 2024, 6pm, at Chapel of Four Chaplains at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1202 Constitution Avenue, Philadelphia. (215) 779-4219 or

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