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Donna Waller Harper

dancer, choreographer and actress, was born Deborrah Kaye Allen in Houston, Texas, to Andrew Allen, a dentist, and Vivian Ayers-Allen, a poet and librarian; her parents had two other children, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Allen, better known as Tex. Although she exhibited an early interest in dance and desired to join the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she was denied admission when she applied in the 1950s in what her mother saw as a clear example of discrimination. Her parents were able to pay for private ballet lessons with the Ballet Russes. She later traveled and trained in Mexico City with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964 she returned to Houston where she once again auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet This time she was not only accepted to the prestigious organization but was awarded a scholarship Her talent won her ...

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Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

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Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, athlete, singer, and producer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Annabelle Patricia West and John Allen Amos Sr., a self-taught diesel auto mechanic and tractor trailer driver. Shortly after his second birthday, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where they lived while John Sr. served in the military during World War II. His father left after the war, and his mother struggled to support her family by working as a domestic and then as a certified dietician. Amos recalled that, “the only time [he] ever saw his mother concede to possible failure was one time when she could not find any food in the cupboards. She had to ask him to go to the next-door neighbor to borrow food” (interview with John Amos by the author, 2010 Amos first joined the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey at about ...

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Maria Stilson

actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...

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George H. Douglas

radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family. His father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, a job that, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio.

Between 1923 and 1933 Anderson's older brother Cornelius had a career in vaudeville as a song and dance man, and Eddie, who had little formal education, joined him occasionally. With vaudeville dying, however, Eddie drifted toward Hollywood. In the depths of the Depression, pickings were slim. His first movie appearance was in 1932 in What Price Hollywood? For a few years he had only bit parts but then he secured a major role in ...

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The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.

Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

(now Suffolk), Virginia to Florence Avery. He was one of three children whom his mother raised on her own. When he was still very young, his family moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he spent most of his early life. After graduating high school in 1963, Avery enlisted in the Navy, serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

After leaving the military, he relocated to San Diego, California and began writing for PBS. He won an LA Area Emmy Award for a show he produced, Ameda Speaks: Poet James Avery. He received a scholarship from the University of California, San Diego, from which he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor s degree in Literature and Drama Writing was always what he aspired to do professionally but his rich voice and imposing physical presence opened the door to an acting career He performed in community plays ...

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Sandra Y. Govan

A Los Angeles native and later resident of Vancouver, Washington, Steven Emory Barnes is the third African American author after 1960 to have chosen science fiction and fantasy writing as his primary profession. Barnes established himself through the 1980s as a determined and disciplined writer, one who had followed a cherished childhood dream to become a commercially successful professional writer.

The youngest child of Emory F. Barnes and Eva Mae (Reeves) Barnes, Steven Barnes grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles High, Los Angeles City College, and Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (1978–1980 At Pepperdine he majored in communication arts but withdrew from school before completing a degree frustrated because he thought no one on the faculty could teach him about building a career as a professional writer It was not until Barnes made contact with established science fiction writer Ray Bradbury who sent the novice ...

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Charles L. Hughes

DJ, producer, and member of Eric B. and Rakim, was born in East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. In his youth Barrier showed a musical aptitude, playing trumpet and guitar before devoting his energy to DJ-ing, a form which—by the mid-1970s—was a cornerstone of the burgeoning hip-hop movement arising in New York City's boroughs. Barrier's turntable talents eventually landed him a job as the mobile DJ for New York radio station WBLS while in high school. It was also during this period that Barrier met William Griffin Jr., a young MC who had adopted the name and stage persona of “Rakim Allah” in 1984 to signal his growing commitment to the Five Percent sect of the Nation of Islam a controversial but influential sect that promoted a broadly Afrocentric blend of political and spiritual advancement A prodigiously talented lyricist Rakim s complicated sophisticated rhymes found their perfect complement in ...

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Charles L. Hughes

record executive, producer, and activist, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1940 or 1941. In 1945 his family moved to Little Rock, where Bell later graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the city's Philander Smith College, following this with uncompleted ministerial training; he worked as a disc jockey throughout high school and college. In 1959 Bell began working at workshops run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His SCLC involvement was short-lived, which Bell attributed to a difference in philosophy, explaining that King's strategy of nonviolent confrontation differed from his belief in the power of black capitalist entrepreneurship in effecting social change.

Bell then worked full time at several radio stations first at WLOK in Memphis where his laid back style helped boost ratings and then at WUST in Washington D C where he introduced ...

Article

Paul K. Sutton

was born on 23 September 1949 in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad, the second of six children. Her father, Roy, was an estate security officer and jazz musician who emigrated to England when she was 8. Floella followed two years later to join the family in London where her father had found work as a garage mechanic. In later years she spoke of the difficulties she had in adjusting to life in London, including racism, which were chronicled in her autobiographical children’s book Coming to England (1995). This was adapted for a BBC television program, which won a Royal Television Society award in 2004.

Benjamin left school at the age of 16 to work as a clerk in Barclays Bank. In 1973 she won a part in Hair, a successful musical, and so began a theatrical career. Appearances in the London West End musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and The ...

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Jessica C. Hajek

was born Frantz Fontaine on 10 November 1945 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Siméon Benjamin, an artist and leader of the folkloric dance group Troupe Aïda, and Stael Fontaine, known as Yèyelle. Siméon never married Benjamin’s mother, and the boy was coparented by Yèyelle and two of her cousins, Aline Macombe and Aline’s brother, the pastor Anthony D. Macombe, whom Benjamin referred to as “mother” and “father.” While his birth mother worked in the United States to pay for her son’s education, Benjamin remained behind in Port-au-Prince, where he attended the prestigious Saint-Louis de Gonzaque primary school in the downtown area of the capital. Siméon officially recognized Frantz, already 10 years old, as his son, and a name change from Frantz Fontaine to Lionel S. Benjamin soon followed.

As a child Benjamin took an early interest in music and sometimes tapped out drum rhythms on the hood of a 1940s Ford ...

Article

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

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Malinda Williams

poet, short story writer, mythologist, and folklorist, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Cornelius A. Bennett, a baker, and Kerene Robinson Bennett, a seamstress. Bennett's father died when she was just seven years old, leaving her mother to support the family. Bennett received a typical colonial education at St. Simon's College (1933–1936) and Excelsior High School (1936–1938), which greatly influenced her later interest in elevating and legitimizing traditional Jamaican culture. Though in high school Bennett began writing poetry in English, she later switched to writing in West Indian English, which linguists would eventually come to recognize as a language rather than just a dialect.

Bennett also began performing versions of her poems to audiences in high school and her success caught the attention of Eric Coverley who would later become Bennett s husband Coverley a draftsman and impresario organized a popular Christmas concert ...

Article

John Harris-Behling

disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.

Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...

Article

Daniel Donaghy

was born Kurtis Walker in the Harlem section of New York City. Fascinated at an early age by the mechanics of his mother’s record player, he began his career as a DJ in grade school by taking requests with a pad and paper at family and Christmas parties. He began DJing as an underage teenager with a fake ID under the moniker “Kool DJ Kurt” in New York City clubs. Around this time he also became involved with gangs. He was expelled from the Harlem’s High School of Music & Art in 1975 for selling marijuana. After running into similar trouble at his next high school, Blow passed the test to complete his General Equivalency Degree (GED). He went on to study communication at the City College of New York, where he met future entertainment mogul Russell Simmons as he also looked to further his career as a DJ ...

Article

was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, the son of Lawrence Bostic, a cook and domestic worker, and his wife Lillian (née Eldridge). From the time he was young, athletics were his passion; he was a boxing champion at Atlantic City High School, and at Baltimore’s Morgan College (today Morgan State University), he played several varsity sports. An honor student, he also participated in the drama club and in a senior research paper he discussed his interest in radio broadcasting (“Many Entertainers,” p. 8).

Bostic graduated from college in 1929. In 1930 he married Dorothy Mitchell, whom he met at Morgan College; they went on to have two sons and a daughter. By early 1932 he had gotten his first radio job, at Baltimore’s WCBM. He hosted a new program called the Negro Business Hour which publicized local Black owned businesses as well as playing music from local ...

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Born in Brooklyn, New York, St. Clair Bourne is the son of St. Clair Bourne Sr., who was an editor of the Amsterdam News and a reporter for the People's Voice in the 1930s. Although the younger Bourne began his education at Georgetown University in 1961, he was expelled for student activism. In 1967 he received a B.A. degree from Syracuse University after working with the Peace Corps. He began a degree in filmmaking at Columbia University in 1968, but was again asked to leave because of his political activities.

From 1968 until 1970 Bourne was a producer, writer, and director for the public-television series Black Journal. He established his own company, Chamba Productions, and produced African American documentary films such as Something to Build On (1971) and Let the Church Say Amen! (1973). In 1974 he received the Bronze ...

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Jason Philip Miller

actor, performer, was born in Evansville, Indiana, to Sam Brooks, a choir singer and tool and die worker active in local unions, and Eva Crawford Lydia, a music teacher and one of the first African American women to graduate from Northwestern University. The family relocated to Gary when Avery was eight years old. There he attended the local schools before matriculating at Indiana University and Oberlin College, though he left both schools before taking a degree.

Soon, Brooks enrolled at Rutgers University, and it was from there that he received a Bachelor's degree in arts in 1974 and, in 1976, a Master's degree in fine arts. He was the first African American at that institution to accomplish the latter. That same year, he married Vicki Lenora, a dean at the school. The couple went on to have three children.

After graduation Brooks stayed on ...

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Roanne Edwards

Best known for his weekly Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television show Tony Brown's Journal, Tony Brown has become a controversial figure in the landscape of American race relations. Although once active in the Civil Rights Movement, he has criticized present-day black activists for prioritizing civil rights at the expense of black business initiatives and education programs in computer technologies. He advocates black economic self-sufficiency and has consistently opposed welfare as well as Affirmative Action policies that he believes mainly benefit middle-class blacks. “If America were capitalist,” said Brown in an interview with Matthew Robinson of Business Daily, “it could not be racist. Racism is flourishing because we are awash in socialistic controls.”

Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown was reared by two domestic workers, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes who informally adopted him at the age of two months after his father deserted the family ...