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Leyla Keough

Katherine Dunham helped shape modern dance as both a dancer and a choreographer, a designer of dance pieces. Trained in anthropology, the study of cultures, she researched the African roots of Afro-Caribbean dances and incorporated African-based dance moves, traditions, and meanings into modern American dance.

Dunham was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Fanny June Taylor, who was French Canadian and Native American, and Albert Dunham. She attended school in Chicago and began to dance at a young age. After a short time at Joliet Junior College, she attended the University of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. degree in cultural anthropology. To help finance her education, she worked as a librarian and taught dance. Dunham eventually opened a dance school and established a black dance troupe later called the Chicago Negro School of Ballet.

Dunham obtained a Guggenheim Award from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation for travel to ...

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Marilyn L. Geary

performing arts educator, was born in the Fort McPherson Army Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of an air force serviceman, George Gaston, and a U.S. Post Office worker, Roberta Lofton. Roberta Lofton Gaston later married and became Roberta Lofton Hayes. The same day Gaston was born, Rosa Parks made history in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to let a white bus rider take her seat. Parks's refusal and subsequent arrest made a crack in the wall of segregation that ultimately caused the inequality barriers to crumble, yet segregation was still very strong in the South when Gaston was a child.

Gaston's parents separated when she was a year old, and she and her mother lived with her grandmother, Estelle Lofton, in Marietta, Georgia. Her mother worked long hours at the U.S. Post Office, and Grandmother Estelle became Gaston's primary caregiver.

In her grandmother s care ...

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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 ...

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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

Eric Gardner

also known as “Millie-Christine,” entertainers, were conjoined twins born to an enslaved couple named Jacob and Monemia, who were owned by Jabez McKay, a Columbus County, North Carolina, blacksmith. The twins quickly became a local sensation in the wake of the success of the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker (conjoined twins made famous by showman and entrepreneur P. T. Barnum) and the growth of the national circus movement. Before the McKoy twins were a year old, McKay and his partner John C. Pervis arranged for them to be exhibited throughout the area; soon after, their career was taken over by a manager named Brower, and they were sold to North Carolina businessman Joseph Pearson Smith. By this point, though, Brower, who was in possession of the young girls, had been swindled and the girls were stolen away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, in 1854 ...