Date of Completion


Embargo Period



contralto, Marian Anderson, goodwill ambassador, music, critical race theory, performativity, semiotics, prototype theory, African American, vocalist

Major Advisor

Dr. Eric Rice

Co-Major Advisor

Dr. Constance Rock

Associate Advisor

Dr. Peter Kaminsky

Field of Study



Doctor of Musical Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Marian Anderson was an internationally-acclaimed contralto and goodwill ambassador for the United States government. In her role as a political asset, she utilized her talents to evoke a perception of the United States that differed from past assessments involving race relations. To provide an understanding of how she became an icon and asset to the State Department, three theoretical frameworks are applied—performativity, prototype, and social semiotics. In classical theories of performativity, classification separates us into categories and hierarchies, while concepts help us to categorize, understand, and predict the material world. Scholars have defined identity as a series of citational acts that cite aspects of persona. In order to be a member of a category, we must possess some—but not necessarily all—qualities of that category. In other words, identity is an act of persuasion, which is the very basis of interaction. Scholars have posited that we need categories to understand the world. We develop prototypes in order to “‘fit”’ in the world and identify with others. Semiotics is the study of signs, which help us code our identity. Michel Foucault noted that power is enacted on and through the body to inform identity, while other scholars explain somatechnics, in which the physical body is a representation of historical and cultural modes of embodiment. Still other scholars recognized identity as both performative, in relation to society, and constative which is innate. We embody codes to express signs. The three prototypical categories studied to which Anderson belonged are African American, female, and classical contralto. She performed citational acts and codes to help her identify and be accepted within those categories. Though some of her citational acts were innate, she possessed the ability to recognize and understand categories and hierarchies in context, resulting in her successful prototypical performance in each category. She masterfully navigated deconstructing and reconstructing her performative identity, which enabled her to attain the status of iconic internationally-renowned contralto and U.S. government asset who broke multiple barriers of race and gender.