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Justin David Gifford

pimp-turned-novelist, autobiographer, essayist, and central figure of the black crime fiction movement that began in the 1960s, was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Robert Lee Maupin Jr., the only child of Mary Brown, a hairdresser, and Robert Maupin Sr., a hustler and one-time cook for Chicago mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson. In 1919, the year of the bloodiest race riots in Chicago's history, Robert Maupin Sr. tossed his infant son against a wall and abandoned the family. Beck survived, and Mary Brown supported her infant son by working as a door-to-door hairstylist. In 1924 she met Henry Upshaw the owner of a cleaning and pressing shop the only black business in Rockford Illinois Remembered by Beck as the only father I had ever really known Iceberg Slim 23 Upshaw provided Beck and his mother with a relatively stable middle class life However ...

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Ann McCarthy

novelist, playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, folklorist, and educator, was born in Bolton, North Carolina, to Dorothy and Cecil Culphert Brown. His father was in prison until Brown was thirteen, so he and his brother Donald Ray were raised until then by his Uncle Lofton, who recognized and nurtured young Cecil's talent for academics and his facility with words. Brown describes this part of his life as a kind of idyll haunted by the mysterious but terrible situation of his father.

When he was fourteen years old Brown reluctantly moved with his brother and father to Green Swamp, North Carolina, to grow tobacco. Considerably less supportive of Cecil's bookishness, Culphert Brown beat him for reading when he should have been plowing It was around this time that Brown first encountered the Stagger Lee story which would be the focus of much of his scholarly research Friends of his father would ...

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Teresa Tomkins-Walsh

author, historian, teacher, and pianist, was born Olga Thelma Scott on 26 September 1905 in Houston's Third Ward, the only child of Ella and Walter Scott. Ella Scott, the daughter of slaves, was a full-time wife and mother; she was an excellent seamstress who sewed for her family but also taught neighbors to sew clothes, make quilts, and embroider. Walter Scott worked in a tobacco shop. Later, he followed in his father's footsteps to become a mail carrier, delivering mail to the homes of elite white families in the Second Ward.

Encouraged by the example of her paternal uncle, Emmett J. Scott, Bryant studied hard. She spoke as salutatorian at her Douglass Elementary School graduation in 1918 presenting her essay America s Share Is Our Share Bryant s family expected her to attend college and she expected to study out of state Although there ...

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Jennifer Jensen Wallach

author, composer, and activist. When Shirley Graham Du Bois was thirteen years old she met the prominent scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois. The meeting had a profound impact on her political and personal development, for she eventually married Du Bois in 1951. She became well known as W. E. B. Du Bois's second wife, causing some to overlook her tremendous personal accomplishments.

Shirley Graham was born near Evansville, Indiana, to David Graham and Etta Graham. Her father was an African Methodist Episcopal minister, a career that caused him to move his family to various locations in the United States, including Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and Nashville. At his churches Shirley first discovered a love for music, learning to play the organ and piano. She completed high school in Spokane, Washington, and then moved to Seattle, where she married Shadrack T. McCants ...

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Diane Todd Bucci

journalist, music critic, author, filmmaker, and television producer, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended St. John's University, and while there began his writing career at the black newspaper the Amsterdam News, where he was a college intern. During this time he also contributed to the music trade journal Billboard. After graduating from St. John's in 1979, George worked as a freelance writer and lived with his mother and sister in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Brooklyn. It did not take him long, though, to begin what would prove to be a flourishing career. George found employment as a black music editor, first for Real World magazine from 1981 to 1982, and then at Billboard from 1982 to 1989. He moved on to write a successful column entitled “Native Son” for the Village Voice, from 1989 to ...

Article

Robert M. O'Brien

composer, bandleader, cornetist, author, and recording artist. Known as the “Father of the Blues,” William Christopher Handy was an influential songwriter and musician in the first half of the twentieth century. While Handy did not invent the blues genre, he was one of the first to use the term “blues” and helped to popularize the music.

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Robert W. Logan

Eartha Kitt began life in an impoverished family that quickly fell apart. By the time she was six she was picking cotton to earn her keep. By the time she was twenty-six, she had grown into the toast of the international nightlife circuit and a star on Broadway. Her stage persona is that of a gold digger, a slinky seductress, a feline presence with a wry sense of humor singing jaded laments about the pursuit of pleasure and wealthy men. There are also sultry interpretations of classic torch songs, ethnic songs from around the world, and a generous supply of comic numbers that poke fun at her image.

Eartha Mae Kitt was born the illegitimate daughter of sharecroppers in North South Carolina Her father disappeared when she was just a few years old and she lost her mother when she was six For the next two years she lived with ...

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Lawrence J. Simpson

Patti LaBelle, Grammy-winner, best-selling author, women’s shoe and fragrance designer, and self-help guru is a bona fide diva. Her five-octave voice is passionate and compelling, and, after more than forty years in the business, shows no signs of becoming tame.

Patti LaBelle was born Patricia (Patsy) Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Bertha Lee Robinson and Henry Holte Jr. LaBelle’s mother had two children by a previous relationship: her brother Thomas and her sister Vivian were fourteen and twelve years, respectively, her senior. In addition to Patti, Bertha and Henry had two other daughters, Barbara (two years older than Patti) and Jackie (one year younger).

A very shy young girl so shy in fact that she once wet her pants in elementary school rather than raise her hand to ask for permission to go to the bathroom she first began singing in front of the mirror and later ...

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Shane Graham

South African jazz pianist, composer, journalist, writer, and broadcaster, was born 7 March 1921 in Queenstown, South Africa, to a family of musicians, the youngest of seven children born to Samuel Bokwe and Grace Matshikiza. Todd attended Adams College in Natal, and trained as a teacher at Lovedale College in Alice. He then taught English and mathematics at Lovedale High School beginning in 1940. He composed for the college choir during this time.

In 1947 Matshikiza moved to Johannesburg and met Esme Sheila Mpama, whom he married in 1950 and with whom he had one daughter, Marian, and one son, John. He taught high school, and then began teaching piano at his own private school. He played jazz piano with several groups throughout the 1950s, including the Manhattan Brothers, the Harlem Swingsters, and Nancy Jacobs and Her Sisters. In 1951 he began working for the newly founded Drum ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer and musician, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of eight children of Andrew Dennis McBride, a Baptist minister, and Rachel (Shilsky) McBride, an occasional typist. The exact date of his birth is not known. Part of a tide of African Americans who left the South in search of greater freedom and job opportunities in the North, McBride's father Andrew had moved in the 1940s from North Carolina to New York, where he found work in a small Manhattan leather factory. Similarly his mother, Rachel, had emigrated from Poland as a child in 1921 and settled with her family in Suffolk Virginia where her father an Orthodox rabbi ran a synagogue and managed a store that exploited the local black population One of Rachel s jobs in that store was to watch the shvartses a derogatory Yiddish term for blacks who were always suspected ...

Article

Wallace McClain Cheatham

college professor, musicologist, pianist, and writer, was born Doris Valean Evans in Washington, D.C., the second daughter of Vallean Richardson Evans and Charlie Evans. Her mother worked for the federal government, and her father was a tailor. McGinty, encouraged by her pianist mother to pursue music, began the study of piano at age seven. At age twelve she gave her first public recital. She continued the study of piano with Andres Wheatley in the Junior Preparatory Department at Howard University and played for Sunday school at the District's Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Among her treasured mementoes were the dress and shoes she wore to the historic 1939Marian Anderson command performance at Washington's Lincoln Memorial.

Two baccalaureate degrees, in music education and German, were completed at Howard University in 1945 and 1946 respectively McGinty then went to Radcliffe College in Cambridge Massachusetts ...

Article

Robbie Clark

The multitalented Della Reese is one of the most treasured and well-respected entertainers of our time. Born Deloreese Patricia Early, she discovered her own singing talents as early as the age of six, singing hymns and gospel songs from the bathroom window of her family’s third-floor apartment in Detroit, Michigan. Radio listeners heard her voice over the airways across Detroit when the six-year-old sang as a soloist with the Olivet Baptist Church choir. It was then that family, friends, and neighbors unmistakably recognized her as their very own child prodigy. Her aspirations grew over the years to include writing, acting, and teaching, as well as singing.

Della Reese was born in Detroit. Her father, Richard Thad Early, an African American, was a steelworker. Her mother, Nellie Early was a Cherokee Indian and worked as a housekeeper She had five half siblings When she was thirteen years old ...

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Dominique-René de Lerma

(b New York, Aug 2, 1931; d Da Nang, Vietnam, May 9, 1967). American pianist, composer, and writer . She made her first major New York appearance in 1946, playing Saint-Saëns’s Concerto in G minor with the New York PO, and her Town Hall recital début in 1953. Her later life was spent in concert tours of Europe, South America, East Asia, and Africa. Among her teachers were Josef Hoffman, Dean Dixon and Paul Wittgenstein. Her best-known works are the orchestral Manhattan Nocturne (1943), Sleepy Hollow Sketches (1945–6), Rhapsody of Youth (1948) and Nile Fantasy (1965); her later works show the influence of Bartók and of African music. Five books related to her travels were published between 1960 and 1962 She died in a helicopter accident while helping in the evacuation of ...

Article

Michael A. Antonucci

concert pianist and musicologist, was born Eileen Jackson in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of Walter Jackson, a musician and chemistry teacher, and Lilla Gibson. She grew up in the Midwest, primarily Chicago, with her mother and two sisters. Her parents divorced when Jackson was eight, but she remained close to her father. Her interest in music was sustained in her mother's South Side home, which was a meeting place for African American musicians and entertainers, most notably Louis Armstrong. Despite her contact with popular and jazz musicians, Jackson's musical training and orientation remained rooted in the traditions of classical European music. A student of works by Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy she played her first piano recital at the age of twelve and performed at Orchestra Hall in Chicago at the age of eighteen She graduated from Lindblom High School in Chicago and at ...