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Steven J. Niven

the first woman executed by electric chair in Georgia, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, to Queenie Baker, a sharecropper, and a father whose name is unknown. Little is known about her early life. If typical of the African American experience in southwestern Georgia in the early 1900s Baker's childhood was probably one of long working hours and low expectations. Indeed, it was in the debt-ridden and desperate Georgia black belt of the early 1900s that W. E. B. Du Bois discovered the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury Litwack 114 In an attempt to escape from that world of debt and desperation Baker began working at an early age at first helping her mother chop cotton for a neighboring white family the Coxes Like other black women in the community she also worked as a laundress and occasional domestic for white families in town Despite the legacy ...

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Jim Haskins

entertainer and nightclub operator, was born in Alderson, West Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Smith, a barber, and Hattie E. (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia, because her parents did not wish to disappoint the various neighbors and friends who offered suggestions for naming her, Bricktop received her nickname because of her red hair when she was in her late twenties from Barron Wilkins, owner of a nightclub called Barron's Exclusive Club in Prohibition-era Harlem.

Bricktop's father died when she was four, and her mother moved with the children to Chicago to be near relatives. Hattie Smith worked as a domestic in Chicago, and her children attended school. Bricktop showed early musical talent and interest in performing. She made her stage debut as a preschooler, playing the part of Eliza's son Harry in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin at ...

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Hilary Mac Austin

Suzanne de Passe learned from her mentor, Berry Gordy, that “a business based on principles is more important than a business based on revenue.” She has held true to that motto. Amazingly, in the cutthroat, white-male-dominated world of Hollywood, she has not only survived but succeeded magnificently.

One of the first and still one of the only African American women powerbrokers in the television and film businesses, Suzanne Celeste de Passe grew up middle-class in Harlem. Her parents, both West Indian, were divorced when she was three. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father worked for Seagrams. He remarried six years after the divorce and is credited with providing de Passe with a strong role model. De Passe attended an elite, integrated private school in Manhattan, the New Lincoln School. While still young, she began modeling clothes designed by DeVera Edwards.

De Passe entered Syracuse University as ...

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Kip Lornell

blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey's mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farmland. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father's pastoral duties.

Though economically pressed Dorsey s parents found enough money to purchase an organ and it was on this instrument that their young son began to play music at around six years of age Dorsey was exposed not only to the religious music that pervaded his home but also to the secular music especially the ...

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Paul Devlin

songwriter, pianist, producer, and record company executive, was born in Camden, New Jersey. His father was a barber and a blues guitarist, and his mother played gospel piano. Along with his songwriting and business partner Kenny Gamble, Huff was largely responsible for creating a popular musical style, known as Philadelphia soul, that was for a time nearly ubiquitous in American popular culture. Although Huff grew up playing drums at Camden High School and regularly made the Camden All-City Orchestra until his graduation in 1960, it was his piano playing that gained him entrance into the music business.

In the early 1960s Huff traveled to New York City and began playing piano on some of the legendary producer Phil Spector's recording sessions including the session for the Ronettes Baby I Love You He had the unique opportunity to observe the development of Spector s ...

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Jay Z  

Hua Hsu

hip-hop artist and record executive, was born Shawn Corey Carter in Brooklyn, New York, the fourth child of Adnes Reeves and Gloria Carter, of whom little is known. Reeves abandoned the family when Shawn was eleven. It has been suggested that Reeves left because of despondency over the fatal stabbing of his younger brother, though Carter himself did not learn this until he and his father reconciled, shortly before Reeves's death in 2003 A single mother Gloria Carter raised Shawn and his siblings in the Marcy Houses housing project in the rough Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn At a young age Carter demonstrated musical talent and became fascinated with hip hop culture He was given the nickname Jazzy which would eventually evolve into his stage name Jay Z The name held two meanings it was an homage to one of his early musical mentors a smalltime rapper ...

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James Gavin

jazz musician, composer, and record, television, and film producer, was born Quincy Delight Jones Jr. on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, the son of Sarah (maiden name unknown) and Quincy Jones Sr., a carpenter who worked for a black gangster ring that ran the Chicago ghetto. When Quincy Sr.'s mentally ill wife was institutionalized, he sent their sons, Quincy Jr. and Lloyd, to live in the South with their grandmother. In his autobiography Jones writes of growing up so poor that his grandmother served them fried rats to eat. By the age of ten he was living with Lloyd and their father in Seattle, Washington. “My stepbrother, my brother, and myself, and my cousin … we burned down stores, we stole, whatever you had to do,” Jones said (CNN Online, “Q and A: A Talk with Quincy Jones,” 11 Dec ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

boxing promoter, was born Donald King in Cleveland, Ohio, the fifth of seven children of Clarence King, a steelworker, and Hattie King. When Donald was nine years old, his father was killed in an explosion at the steel plant where he worked. His mother baked pies and roasted peanuts to supplement the family's meager income. Donald and his siblings assisted their mother by, among other things, inserting slips of paper with “lucky numbers” into each bag of peanuts like fortune cookies. Thus began his introduction as a minor player in the numbers racket, which operated in many impoverished neighborhoods as a quasi-legitimate part of the underground black economy. After class at Lafayette Elementary School, Donald also delivered live poultry to be slaughtered at Hymie's Chicken Shack.As a student athlete at John Adams High School Donald standing six feet three inches had a brief and unimpressive career ...

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Phillip A Cantrell

Rwandan writer and the subject of the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, was born in 1954 in Gitarama, Rwanda, to a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father, although Rusesabagina himself claims to be a Hutu. Rusesabagina separated from his first wife, Ester, in 1981 following the birth of three children. He remarried in 1987 to Tatiana, a Tutsi, and fathered two children, a son and a daughter who died in infancy. Rusesabagina graduated from Utalii College in Nairobi, Kenya, with a degree in hotel management and worked as an assistant to the general manager at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda, from 1984 to 1992. In 1992, he was promoted to general manager of the Diplomate Hotel in Kigali. Rusesabagina gained international acclaim as the subject of the film Hotel Rwanda, which was released in 2004 and nominated for an Academy Award Rusesabagina s ...