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Lisa Clayton Robinson

The wit, wisdom, and power of Angelou's work have made her one of the most beloved contemporary American writers. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Later she chose a new name for herself by combining her childhood nickname, Maya, with a version of her first husband's last name. Her family moved to California soon after her birth, but her parents divorced when she was three, and she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to be raised by her paternal grandmother. When Angelou was seven, her mother's boyfriend raped her. The trauma of this made Angelou unable to speak for five years. During this period she began to read widely.

Angelou returned to California during high school and took drama and dance lessons. As a teenager, she became San Francisco's first female streetcar conductor. She gave birth at age sixteen to her only child, Guy Johnson To ...

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

Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

Article

Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

Article

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

Rachel Westley

playwright and director, author, and educator, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, to Thelma Inez Harrison and Paul Randolph Harrison. Although he was reared in the North and nurtured by the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, his roots are from below the Mason-Dixon Line, in North and South Carolina.

In the South the Harrison family was strongly immersed in Gullah culture and Marcus Garvey s Back to Africa movement Harrison s grandfather in fact was a major leader of and played an active role in the Garvey movement in North Carolina The household was also greatly involved in the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in the Carolinas and much of the mystical curiosity in Harrison s work can be attributed to his grandmother s spiritual influence He was embraced by this richness as a young man and it created the resonating aura of self ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

dancer, painter, choreographer, actor, author, photographer, director, musician, and costume and set designer, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was one of four children of middle-class parents of Irish, French, and African descent.

Holder was educated at Queen's Royal College in Port of Spain. His grandfather, Louis Ephraim, was a French painter whose influence led both Holder and his older brother Boscoe to begin experimenting with oils Geoffrey began teaching himself to paint at age fifteen when he was forced to stay home from school due to a prolonged illness He also learned much from Boscoe who was a pianist painter and dancer When Boscoe moved to England Geoffrey took over as director of his brother s dance company while continuing to create new paintings and display work at gallery exhibitions Holder s work was displayed at ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Edward T. Washington

was born Theodis Wesley Shine, Jr. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of Theodis Wesley Shine, Sr. and Bessie Herson Shine. Before Shine’s third birthday, the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Shine credits elementary school teacher Lorna Dunlap and high school teacher Willie Burke Anderson with fueling his early passion for writing. By the time he graduated from Dallas’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1949, Shine had already written several plays.

Shine attended Howard University in Washington, DC from 1949 to 1953. There he honed his playwriting abilities under the tutelage of esteemed dramatist and educator Owen Dodson. It was Dodson who fostered Shine’s acumen in comedic and satirical writing. Sho Is Hot in the Cotton Patch, one of Shine’s earliest plays, achieved critical acclaim with its production at Howard in 1951.

From 1953 to 1955 Shine was the recipient of a Rockefeller Grant ...