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Clare J. Washington

pilot, who made aviation history when she became the first African American woman to fly for a major passenger airline in the United States, the first to be admitted to the U.S. Navy's flight school, and the first in U.S. military history to qualify as a pilot.

Brown was born in Millersville, Maryland. Her family had taken up aviation as a hobby, and she learned to fly small planes with her parents—Gilbert Brown, who was a former U.S. Air Force instrument mechanic and also owned a building construction business, and Elaine Brown, an art resource teacher in the Baltimore public schools—when she was seventeen years old. For her eighteenth birthday, she received a Cherokee 180D airplane. In 1967 Brown flew her first solo flight in a Piper J 3 Cub She had always dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot but her mother advised her otherwise and ...

Article

Peter Gammond

A 19th-century African-American dance. It originated among plantation slaves (c.1850 reputedly to parody the promenades that opened the plantation owners formal balls In the 1890s it became commercial entertainment and it was used for social dancing at the turn of the 20th century The music is a ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

dancer, choreographer, and university professor, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Sally Yancey and Joshua Milton. He was their only child. After Arthur's mother and father separated, Sally Yancey raised him with the help of her mother, Emma Yancey, and then moved to Washington, D.C., where she married her second husband, Patrick Hall. Arthur eventually took Hall's surname and joined the family in D.C. In 1950, Hall made his dancing debut in The Ordering of Moses, a production sponsored by the National Negro Opera Company.

The following year, 1951, Hall and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he continued studying and performing as a dancer at the Judimar School, which had been founded in 1948 by Marion Cuyjet Hall studied modern dance at the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Malvina Tase Some of his mentors and instructors included Cuyjet a ...

Article

Bandleader who for a brief period early in the Second World War was one of the best known in Britain and definitely the best‐known black one. Born in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana), he learnt the violin but his father discouraged his early interest in dancing. He attended the leading secondary school, Queen's College, and was sent to England for further education. Johnson soon abandoned the study of law for a career as a dancer, studying with the American Clarence ‘Buddy’ Bradley, who had a dance school in London. His professional career took off and in 1934–5 he toured the West Indies and the United States. At this stage, still primarily a dancer, he was encouraged by the popularity of jazz bands to form one with Leslie Thompson, a much superior musician from Jamaica. Though popular, the band fell apart in 1937 and Johnson formed his own band ...

Article

Tarice Sims Gray

dancer, choreographer, educator, and social worker, was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to a racially mixed father, Hank Witt, who had been a buffalo soldier, and mother, Pearlie (Pryor) Witt, a black woman. Before settling in Cheyenne the family lived in Missouri, where Marjorie's older brother was born. It is not known what brought them to Cheyenne. Hank was a fair-skinned biracial man with a deep love for his dark-skinned wife. Marjorie Hayes Witt their first daughter and the second oldest of five children took after her mother and was the only one of her siblings to have Pearlie s mocha coloring Early on Marjorie learned that this legacy would be a burden Her mother found that her own complexion was a handicap and went so far as to bathe her dark skinned daughter in buttermilk in the belief it would lighten her Marjorie ...

Article

Graeme Boone and James Sellman

The roots of the jook joint—a distinctly African American place for music, dancing, and socializing—reach back well before the Civil War (1861–1865) to the era of slavery. For slaves, free time and free space were transitory, rare, and surrounded in secrecy. In his autobiography, Tom Fletcher, an entertainer born in the late nineteenth century, recalled stories of such gatherings that he had heard when he was a boy: “[T]he slaves couldn't just come right out and say they were going to have a party or even a religious gathering. … [They] would use some kind of a signal … and one of the main code songs was the spiritual ‘Steal Away’. … The steal away gatherings sometimes were religious services. … Other times they were … good time parties.”

In such an environment to steal away and dance make music or pray together meant more than ...

Article

Jay Straker

Guinean choreographer and statesman, was born in the Maninka (Malinké) town of Siguiri in northeastern French Guinea (today’s Republic of Guinea) in 1921. His father was an educated merchant. His mother was of the Diabaté jeli (or griot, praise singer) lineage. Acquainted with reputable local artists from an early age, including a griot that performed at the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, Keita quickly excelled in both music and French schooling, learning the banjo and gaining entry into colonial Guinea’s most prestigious school—the École Primaire Supérieure located in the capital city of Conakry. While earning high academic marks in Conakry (1937–1940), Keita also led a band whose songs incorporated diverse global influences. This youthful demonstration of leadership and comprehensive artistic vision foretold of Keita’s eventual career as one of Africa’s greatest, most influential choreographers.

Like many of the brightest young men who came of age in French West Africa over ...

Article

Cuban ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz wrote that the word bamba means “a lucky move,” and “success obtained without working,” tracing its origins to a similar word— mbamba—from the Congo, meaning “play”. Bamba has also been traced to the Gabonese word bumbua, which means “to do something with improvisation, without preparing to do it.” African elements were introduced into the dance by enslaved Africans who worked the haciendas (large estates) in Mexico. African influence was particularly high in the urban areas, such as Mexico City, Puebla, and the port city of Veracruz, where Afro-Mexicans taught music and dancing, and where the dance reportedly originated.

“La Bamba” is also the name of a popular song, performed in a traditional Mexican musical genre called huapango—a complex mix of Spanish melodic influences that integrates Amerindian and African cross-rhythms. As for its etymological origins, huapango may have derived from a ...

Article

Paulette Brockington

was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Rosella Moore and Alton Lee. She started performing at the tender age of four showing off her singing and dancing talents through high school. By the time she was nine she was performing with a big band in popular clubs around town. At twelve she was performing at The Top Hat, the first Black-owned nightclub in Georgia. She headed for New York City with her mother in tow when she graduated from high school.

On 18 August 1940 Lee auditioned for the Apollo Theater She sang danced flipped and did the splits Without an agent she couldn t be booked as a soloist Advised to get work in a chorus line she went to an open call of three hundred girls for Harlem s West End Theater Once cast she got to work with choreographers Charlie Davis and Leonard Reed creator of the ...

Article

Amber Karlins

was born Jennie Bell Ligon on the South Side of Chicago to Hector and Harriet Ligon. Her name was later changed from Ligon to LeGon as a result of a typo in a gossip column. LeGon started dancing at six years old while spending time with other neighborhood children who liked to perform on street corners, playing kazoos and harmonicas and washtub drums.

Seven years later LeGon began her performance career when she took a job as a chorus girl at thirteen years old. Because she had a very straight figure, none of the girl’s clothes fit her, so she suggested they allow her to wear pants. Doing so allowed her to develop a style that was similar to the one held by boys during that period, which featured acrobatic moves, flying splits, and mule kicks.

In 1931 LeGon began touring with a vaudeville dance troupe, and in 1935 ...

Article

The first samba school to be created was Deixa Falar, which was established in Rio de Janeiro's Estácio de Sá neighborhood in 1926. But Mangueira is one of the oldest Samba Schools that still remains active. Samba composer Cartola and several friends established Mangueira on April 28 ...

Article

Ben Penglase

Manuel dos Reis Machado was born in Bahia. He initially called the martial art that he taught “luta regional” (or regional fighting), and this style has since come to be known as capoeira regional. Mestre Bimba was one of the Capoeiramestres or masters who was influential in ...

Article

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha is said to have learned Capoeira as a young boy from an African-born Brazilian named Benedito. He opened his capoeira academy in 1941 in Salvador, Bahia, and worked to preserve the traditional form of capoeira, which he termed capoeira Angola Pastinha was a ...

Article

Jeffrey Green

Musical and humorous entertainment style popular from about 1850 to 1970. The entertainers blacked up, a grotesque parody of black Americans in the Southern slave states. When African‐descent entertainers participated, they too wore burnt‐cork make‐up. Minstrel shows were musical, vibrant, amusing, and capable of swiftly adapting to new circumstances.

Most societies have entertainers who use masks and gaudy clothes, speak with false accents, dance in exaggerated ways, and play musical instruments with visible enthusiasm. The minstrel show did all these. A minstrel show was a self‐contained entertainment.

Minstrelsy originated in the United States, where it once showed both the evils of slavery and the allegedly happy plantation slave. The best‐selling anti‐slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin added dramatic elements; then Negro spirituals, brought to England by the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1871 added songs including Go Down Moses and Steal Away to Jesus Costumes ranged from ragged hand me ...

Article

Paul Schauert

Ghanaian choreographer, dancer, artist, and educator, was born on 13 November 1915 into a royal family of the Akan in central Ghana. His father, Nana Mawere Opoku, was the Okyeame (linguist) of the Asantehene (head chief of the Asante). His mother, Yaa Bemponmaalias Abena Kobina, was a renowned storyteller and the sister of the Asantehene’s chief linguist, Akyeamehene Kwasi Numah. Albert Mawere Opoku was thus in line to become an Okyeame himself and was the heir of the Gyasehene royal house. In addition to the special training in traditional lore and etiquette he acquired from his association with the royal house of the Asante, Opoku received his primary and secondary education at the Kumasi Government School (1921–1930).

After graduation, in 1931, he entered Achimota College (located near Accra, Ghana), where he studied for three years. Following a brief hiatus, he enrolled in 1939 in the Art ...

Article

C. S'thembile West

dance pioneer, anthropologist, and choreographer, was born in Trinidad, the daughter of Edward Primus and Emily Jackson, and migrated with her family to New York City when she was two years old. She majored in biology and premedicine at Hunter College of the City University of New York and graduated in1940. Seeking support for graduate studies, she solicited help from the National Youth Administration (NYA). Under the auspices of the NYA she was enrolled in a dance group, subsequently auditioned for the New Dance Group in New York, and earned a scholarship with that institution.

During Primus's tenure at the New Dance Group, she began to do research on African culture. She visited museums and consulted books, articles, and pictures for months to produce on 14 February 1943 her first significant dance work, African Ceremonial which she had asked continental Africans to judge ...

Article

Germaine Ingram

dancer and educator, was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of fourteen children of David Robinson, a construction worker, and Katherine Griffin, a homemaker. Robinson's South Philadelphia neighborhood pulsed with percussive street dancing, an example of vernacular culture that became the springboard for his distinguished career. When he was seven years old, his mother took a break from preparing supper to teach him his first tap step, which he practiced on the wooden floorboards of the family's kitchen. He expanded his repertoire by watching and imitating rhythm dancers who entertained themselves and challenged each other on street corners along Philadelphia's South Street corridor, where, according to Robinson, tap dancing was a common pastime for men, women, and children.

By his early teens Robinson was a street dancer himself busking dancing for money in Philadelphia s downtown He and two or three other youngsters became what was ...

Article

Rumba  

Aaron Myers

During the eighteenth century, large numbers of slaves of Yoruba, Calabar, and Kongo descent were brought to Cuba to work in the Sugar-producing region of Matanzas. Following the abolition of slavery in 1886, these and other liberated blacks headed to Cuba's urban centers in search of employment and settled on the outskirts of the cities. The rumba was born out of festive social gatherings in the suburban environment of Matanzas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rumba synthesizes African-derived rhythms, songs, and dances, in particular those of Bantu origin. Rumba soon spread to Havana and other parts of Cuba and, after World War II, was exported to Europe and the United States, where it was modified into a type of ballroom dance. This article focuses on the original form of rumba, as performed in contemporary Afro-Cuban communities.

A number of percussive instruments accompany the ...

Article

Samba  

Aaron Myers

To Brazilians, samba is many different things: abandon and solace, celebration and exuberance, national identity and pride. Though samba is most closely associated with the pre-Lent festivities known as Carnival, there are several forms of samba that are played year-round in various contexts. Percussive instruments dominate samba and give it a highly syncopated, layered sound. Technically, a 2/4 meter with the heaviest accent on the second beat and a stanza-and-refrain structure characterize samba.

Samba is rooted in the music and dance traditions of Angola, the African kingdom (now country) that was home for many of the slaves brought to Brazil. The word samba is believed to have derived from the Kimbundu word semba, a circle dance that features a navel-touching dance step. Many historians trace the musical roots of samba to the lundu music tradition brought to Brazil by slaves from Angola This African dance and ...

Article

Aaron Myers

In 1928 several musicians from the Estácio neighborhood in Rio De Janeiro formed the first Samba school, Deixa Falar (Let Them Speak). One of the reasons they created this organization was to parade during Carnival, a celebration from which they had historically been denied participation. Other black musicians followed their lead and came together to found their own samba schools, including Mangueira in 1929 and Portela in 1935. Although Afro-Brazilians had informally paraded through their own neighborhoods during Carnival festivities since the early nineteenth century, the samba schools lent a degree of formality to the Afro-Brazilians' street revelry and allowed them to assert their presence during Carnival. When Getúlio Vargas came into political power in 1930, he put an end to the repression of Afro-Brazilians and their samba schools and gave official recognition to their parades.

The Vargas administration changed Carnival by requiring participating samba schools to have ...