A 1,000 seat lecture hall and landmark performance venue, Sanders Theatre is one of the original components of Memorial Hall's 1875 design and was intended to host Harvard's commencement exercises, as well as lectures. However, the last commencement service in Sanders took place in 1922.
It now serves primarily as a lecture and concert hall, hosting a variety of undergraduate classes and musical performances by student acts such as the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College; professional groups like the Boston Philharmonic, Boston Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, and Harlem Gospel Choir; and world-renowned touring artists such as Zakir Hussain, Nick Cave, Brandi Carlisle, Trey Anastasio, Suzanne Vega, Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Wynton Marsalis, and Beck.
True to its intent, Sanders continues to feature academic events, conferences, and speakers. Several of the most well-known speakers have been Winston Churchill, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lady Gaga, and Oprah Winfrey.
Named for Charles Sanders (Harvard 1802), college steward and donor of $40,000 (about $1.2 million in today's dollars), the venue is famous for its white ash, mahogany, and walnut woods; close audience proximity to the stage; 180-degree seating design; and excellent acoustics. The lobby, also known as the Memorial Hall Transept, is adorned with marble floors, 60-foot high gothic vaulting, black walnut paneling, stenciled walls, and 28 panels honoring the 136 alumni donors who died fighting for the United States Army and Navy during the Civil War.