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Article

Rob Fink

The first image of an African American in film occurred in 1903 with the silent movie Uncle Tom's Cabin. The twelve-minute-long movie, though, starred a white actor in blackface as the title character. For African American actors and actresses, the opportunity to appear in films, and subsequently in television and serious theater productions, took a while to develop. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the white actors who portrayed black characters, such as those who performed in D. W. Griffith'sThe Birth of a Nation in 1915, established several derogatory characters. Over the next century, black actors and actresses found themselves working against these stereotypes.

The practice of excluding African Americans from performing began during the post Civil War period and extended to all forms of acting In Wild West shows and circuses black actors and actresses were almost nonexistent The African Americans who appeared usually ...

Article

Frank Tirro

jazz saxophonist, was born Julian Edwin Adderley in Tampa, Florida, the son of Julian Carlyle Adderley, a high school guidance counselor and jazz cornet player, and Jessie Johnson, an elementary school teacher. The family moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where Adderley attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College High School from 1941 until 1944. He earned his bachelor's degree from Florida A&M in 1948, having studied reed and brass instruments with the band director Leander Kirksey and forming, with Kirksey, a school jazz ensemble. Adderley then worked as band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and jobbed with his own jazz group.

Adderley served in the army from 1950 until 1953, leading the Thirty-sixth Army Dance Band, to which his younger brother, the cornetist Nathaniel “Nat” Adderley, was also assigned. While stationed in Washington, D.C., in 1952 Adderley continued to play ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Alvin Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas. He grew up in a single-parent household headed by his mother, Lula Elizabeth Cooper. As a boy, he helped her pick cotton. In 1942 they moved to Los Angeles, California, where she found employment in the World War II aircraft industry. Ailey attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and Jefferson High School, primarily black schools. He went on to study literature at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Ailey's dancing career started in 1949 when a high school friend, Carmen DeLavallade, introduced him to Lester Horton, his first dance instructor at the Lester Horton Dance Theater. When Horton died in 1953, Ailey became the director of the company. The following year, Ailey moved to New York City where he joined DeLavallade in the Broadway dance production House of Flowers While appearing in other stage ...

Article

Lili Cockerille Livingston

actor, dancer, and choreographer, was born in Rogers, Texas, the son of Alvin Ailey, a laborer, and Lula Elizabeth Cliff, a cotton picker and domestic. Before Ailey was a year old, his father abandoned the family, leaving them homeless for close to six years. During that time Ailey and his mother made their way, often by foot, across the unforgiving terrain of the impoverished and bitterly racist Brazos Valley in southeastern Texas to seek shelter with relatives and find work in nearby fields.A bright curious child Ailey joined his mother in the cotton fields as soon as he could carry a sack He reveled in the sights and sounds of the gospel choirs and worshipers that he witnessed in the black Baptist churches of his youth Ailey also became acquainted with the less pious side of life through those who spent Saturday nights dancing ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

The Sam ‘n’ Henry radio show, as it was first called, was created in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, by two white entertainers, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. The show portrayed its two African American characters in full racial stereotype, complete with broken English. In 1928 the characters were renamed Amos ‘n’ Andy and were crafted to reflect white stereotypes of African American life and culture in Harlem, New York, in the years immediately following the Great Migration, the mass movement of blacks from the South to the North in the early twentieth century. While Amos was portrayed as weak and submissive, Andy was lazy and pretentious. Together, they were bumbling fools. When the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) acquired the radio program in 1929, they became a national comic sensation.

Due to its great popularity the show was played on the radio in many of the country ...

Article

Frank E. Dobson

Amos ’n’ Andy, both the radio show and the television show that followed, is a name that conjures up racial stereotypes. Amos ’n’ Andy was one of the twentieth century's most popular and controversial comedy shows depicting black characters.

The show was the creation of two enterprising white actors and musicians, Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll. In 1925 Gosden and Correll debuted as musicians on WGN radio in Chicago. After discussions with station management regarding a new radio show, the pair suggested a blackface minstrel show in which they would play black characters. The original names of the characters were Sam and Henry; Sam ’n’ Henry debuted on 12 January 1926. The show used stereotypical representations of black speech and black urban life.

Sam ’n’ Henry ran on WGN for two years and was quite successful Some critics such as Mel Watkins suggest that the ...

Article

Robert Fay

Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the first of three daughters of John Berkeley Anderson, an ice and coal peddler, and Anna D. Anderson, who, although trained as a teacher, took in laundry. Throughout her childhood, Anderson's family was poor. Their financial situation worsened when she was twelve. Her father died because of injuries he received at work. Anderson had an urge to make music from an early age, and she was clearly talented. When she was six years old, she joined the junior choir at the church to which her father belonged, Union Baptist, and became known as the “Baby Contralto.” In addition, she taught herself to play the piano, eventually playing well enough to accompany herself during her singing concerts.

Anderson joined the church s senior choir at age thirteen She began singing professionally and touring during high school to earn money for ...

Article

Antoinette Handy

contralto, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Berkeley Anderson, a refrigerator room employee at the Reading Terminal Market, an ice and coal dealer, and a barber, and Anne (also seen as “Annie” and “Anna,” maiden name unknown), a former schoolteacher. John Anderson's various jobs provided only a meager income and after his death before Marian was a teenager her mother s income as a laundress and laborer at Wanamaker s Department Store was even less Still as Anderson later recalled neither she nor her two younger sisters thought of themselves as poor When Marian was about eight her father purchased a piano from his brother she proceeded to teach herself how to play it and became good enough to accompany herself Also as a youngster having seen a violin in a pawnshop window she became determined to purchase it and earned the requisite four dollars by ...

Article

Mildred Denby Green

When Marian Anderson was just eight years old, her aunt presented her at a fund-raising church program as the “Baby Contralto.” Two years earlier, Anderson had joined the junior choir at the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia. More than anything else, she loved to sing. Music and musical instruments fascinated her at home and in school.

Article

Susan Edwards

opera singer. Marian Anderson was born on 27 February 1897 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first of three daughters born to Anna and John Anderson. Nicknamed the “baby contralto” for her lush, deep voice when she sang in local churches as a child, Anderson fought hard to foster her career in Europe and the United States, and in the process she became an advocate for civil rights in the United States.

When Anderson was twelve years old her father died from a head injury sustained while working at Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. He was thirty-four years old, and his death left his widow, Anna with three young daughters to raise They moved in with Marian s paternal grandparents Anna had been a teacher before she married Marian s father but she was not credentialed in Pennsylvania To keep her family together Anna took in laundry and worked ...

Article

Tasha M. Hawthorne

Angelou’s creative talent and genius cut across many arenas. One of the most celebrated authors in the United States, Angelou writes with an honesty and grace that captures the specificity of growing up a young black girl in the rural South.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey, a doorman and naval dietician, and Vivian, a registered nurse, professional gambler, and rooming house and bar owner, Angelou spent her early years in Long Beach, California. When she was three, her parents divorced, and she and her four-year-old brother, Bailey Jr., were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their maternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou recalls in vivid detail this lonely and disconcerting journey to Stamps.

Under the watchful and loving gaze of her grandmother Angelou lived a life defined by staunch Christian values and her grandmother s ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

Article

Onita Estes-Hicks

Inheriting the hopes and dreams of the fading Harlem Renaissance, New York's famed Apollo Theater opened at 253 West 125th Street between Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard) and Eighth Avenue (now Frederick Douglass Boulevard) in January 1934, becoming the first theater on 125th Street, the commercial center of Harlem, to provide live performances to black Harlem. Built in 1913, the Apollo's building had previously been occupied by two entertainment companies that had practiced “segregation without signs,” the exclusionary racial policies that motivated the fierce “Buy Black” campaign begun on 125th Street in the spring of 1934.

Besting the Lincoln and the historic Lafayette theaters both located north of 125th Street where racial barriers had already fallen the Apollo emerged as the victor in a frantic struggle for audiences in a Depression ridden Harlem where nearly 50 percent of the population was on the unemployment rolls ...

Article

Lil Hardin Armstrong is one of the great treasures of American jazz. In a day when women in music were the singers, Hardin played the piano, composed, arranged, and managed—both her own career and that of her husband Louis Armstrong. Uncredited for many years, happily she has begun to gain some well-deserved attention.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Lillian Beatrice Hardin was the daughter of Dempsey Martin and William Hardin Reports differ on whether Hardin s parents divorced or whether her father died when she was young but it is known that Hardin was raised by her mother and her maternal grandmother in a strictly religious household Hardin was attracted to music almost from birth and began playing the organ when she was very young By the time she was six her mother had arranged that she take additional piano lessons from her schoolteacher and by nine she ...

Article

Karl Rodabaugh

jazz cornet player, trumpeter, and vocalist. Louis Armstrong's musical style and charismatic personality transformed jazz from a “raucous” and “vulgar” regional form of dance music into an internationally beloved popular art form. Also known as “Satchel-mouth” and “Pops,” Armstrong first gained renown as an innovative cornet player and trumpeter whose creative energy helped bring about the movement of jazz into swing in the 1920s. But he also achieved fame as a vocalist whose distinctive style, including some specific features identified as “Afro-American,” influenced scores of jazz singers and thus played a significant role in shaping popular music of the twentieth century.

Article

Frank Tirro

jazz trumpeter and singer, known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother's care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence‐torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden when he was about age five, this incident may be apocryphal. As a child, he worked odd jobs, sang in a vocal quartet, and around 1911 bought a ...

Article

More than anyone else, Louis Armstrong was responsible for legitimizing and popularizing jazz for a wider public. A much-admired jazz trumpeter and gravel-voiced vocalist, Armstrong was also a consummate entertainer, steadily expanding his career from instrumentalist to popular singer, to film and television personality, and, ultimately, to cultural icon. He acquired many nicknames throughout his life, including Dippermouth, Pops, and Satchelmouth—the latter often contracted to Satchmo. As Satchmo, he was instantly identifiable around the world, decades before PrinceMadonna, or Sting. The international appeal of his music in effect made Armstrong the American goodwill ambassador to the world.

Article

Hope Munro Smith

was born on 27 April 1913 or 1919 (date of birth uncertain) in Tunapuna, Trinidad, to middle class parents. Her father, Frederick Monroe Atwell, was a pharmacist, and her mother, Sarah Elizabeth Atwell, was a district nurse.

Like many middle-class children at the time, Winifred began piano lessons at a young age. Since her parents owned a successful pharmacy, it was expected that Atwell and her siblings would assist in the family business. However, Winifred continued to pursue music even as she trained as a pharmacist. She gave piano lessons, and was frequently asked to perform popular tunes in various settings. It was for a series of shows for the Servicemen’s Club at the air base in Piarco that she composed her first original tune, “Piarco Boogie,” which she later renamed “Five Finger Boogie.” In 1942 Atwell migrated to New York where she became a student of the Russian ...

Article

Jack Sohmer

jazz clarinetist and saxophonist, was born William C. Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee. Nothing is known of his parents. He attended the Clay Street School in Memphis, where he began studying clarinet at age thirteen. In 1917 he turned professional after joining the touring band of the famed blues composer W. C. Handy, and it was during a trip to New Orleans with Handy that he first heard authentic jazz. In early 1919 he left Handy to move to Chicago, where he studied with Franz Schoepp, first clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony, and worked in Erskine Tate's Vendome Theatre Orchestra and doubled in Freddie Keppards's small jazz band at the Lorraine Gardens. In late 1923 or early 1924 Bailey replaced Johnny Dodds in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band for an extensive tour that concluded with its return to the Lincoln Gardens in June 1924. In August ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

Bailey graced the worlds of movies, television, musical theater, nightclubs, and recordings with a dazzling smile, an engaging personality, and the sense that she was communicating personally with each individual member of her audience. An entertainer who methodically worked her way up the show business ladder, she was unassuming and unpretentious, but nevertheless a star whose charismatic presence illuminated stages and screens for more than fifty years.

Pearl Mae Bailey was born in Newport News, Virginia, to Joseph James and Ella Mae Bailey. Her father was a revivalist minister, and at the age of three she was already dancing and singing in his church. When she was four, the family moved to Washington, DC. When her parents separated, Bailey, the youngest of four children, stayed with her father, but eventually she joined her mother and siblings in Philadelphia, where her mother had remarried.

Bailey attended William Penn High ...