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Harry Belafonte may be best known to audiences in the United States as the singer of the “Banana Boat Song” (known popularly as “Day-O”). However, it is his commitment to political causes that inspired scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to observe: “Harry Belafonte was radical long before it was chic and remained so long after it wasn't.” Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, to West Indian parents. The family moved to Jamaica in 1935 but returned five years later. Struggling with dyslexia, Belafonte dropped out of high school after the ninth grade and, at the age of seventeen, joined the U.S. Navy. The work was menial: scrubbing the decks of ships in port during World War II. Naval service, however, introduced Belafonte to African Americans who awakened his political consciousness and introduced him to the works of radical black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois.

In ...

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Ronald M. Radano

(b New York, March 1, 1927). American popular singer and actor. He lived in Kingston, Jamaica, for five years (1935–40), returning to New York in 1940. In 1945 he began a career as an actor, having studied in Erwin Piscator’s drama workshop at the New School of Social Research. He experienced greater commercial success, however, as a popular singer, making his début at the Royal Roost, New York, in 1949. The following year he rejected his popular song repertory and began to sing traditional melodies from Africa, Asia, America and the Caribbean, which he collected in folk music archives. Having secured an RCA recording contract in 1952, Belafonte went on to become the most popular ‘folk’ singer in the USA. His interpretations of Trinidadian calypso music between 1957 and 1959 won him his greatest success and marked the pinnacle of ...

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Chris Bebenek

singer, actor, activist, and producer, was born Harold George Belafonte Jr. in Harlem in New York City, the son of Harold George Belafonte Sr., a seaman, and Melvine Love, a domestic worker. Belafonte Sr. was an alcoholic who contributed little to family life, other than occasionally hitting his spouse, and the young Harry was brought up almost exclusively by his mother. Harold and Melvine, who were both from the Caribbean, had a difficult time adjusting to life in New York, and after the Harlem race riots of 1935 Melvine and her son moved to her native Jamaica where Harry spent five years shielded from American racism When World War II broke out the Belafontes returned to Harlem Hoping for better conditions the family would often try to pass for white With white relatives on both the mother s and father s sides they were ...

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Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes

singer, actor, activist, and humanitarian. Harold George Belafonte was born in New York City to Harold George Belafonte Sr., a native of Martinique, and Melvine Love Belafonte, who was from Jamaica. Melvine Belafonte moved her family back to Jamaica in 1935 after rioting broke out in Harlem. Young Harry lived in the Blue Mountains, Saint Anne's Bay, and Kingston before returning to Harlem in 1940. Belafonte, who suffered from dyslexia, dropped out of school in the ninth grade and joined the U.S. Navy in 1944.

The seeds of Belafonte s humanitarian social and political activism began to bloom during his military service His experiences performing the servile jobs assigned to enlisted blacks were eye opening His stint on active duty further shaped his views on freedom and eventually found expression in his music and his causes While in the navy he met a group ...

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Cyril Daddieh

Ivorian reggae music star, was born in Dimbokro on 1 January 1953 to a Muslim mother and a Christian father. The oldest of nine children, he was named Seydou Koné, after his grandfather, and brought up by his grandmother, Cheri Coco, in the Muslim faith. Early signs of rebelliousness prompted his exasperated grandmother to call him “blondy,” an apparent mispronunciation of “bandit” (troublemaker). Reunited with his father in Odienné in 1962, young Blondy spent the next ten years attending Saint Elisabeth High School, where he became involved in student politics and also developed an interest in music. Expelled from school for an altercation with his math teacher, Blondy went to Monrovia, Liberia, to study English. He proceeded to the United States, settled in New York in 1973 and enrolled first in Hunter College and later in the Columbia University s American Language Program to pursue a career as ...

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Aldrich W. Adkins

Thomas J. Bowers was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An outstanding young tenor in the mid-nineteenth century, he was compared favorably with the leading world tenors of that day. He was consistently called “Mario,” “the colored Mario,” “the American Mario,” or “the Indian Mario,” after the renowned Italian tenor Conte di Candia Mario.

Bowers's father was the warden of Saint Thomas's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where sacred music was sung as early as 1800. Bower's first music teacher was his pianist brother John, whom he succeeded as the organist at the church. His youngest sister, Sara Sedgwicke Bowers, also became a fine singer. Several bands, including the Frank Johnson Band, eagerly sought his services. It was his outstanding singing that won him public acclaim. His vocal training was received under the tutelage of internationally famous American soprano Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield popularly known as the Black Swan ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

singer, songwriter, and politician, was one of four children born to J. T. and Alveria Butler, in Sunflower, Mississippi. The Butlers, a Mississippi sharecropping family, moved to Chicago in 1942, where they lived in the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects. J. T. Butler worked a variety of jobs to support his family until his death in 1953, and, following his passing, relatives and friends moved in to help the family make ends meet. Jerry, active in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), soon became known around his community for his musical ability and rich baritone voice, and he quickly began performing as a gospel artist with friends and fellow COGIC members. One of Jerry's friends, a prodigious musician and songwriter named Curtis Mayfield would soon join Butler in a singing group called the Roosters The group subsequently changed its name to the Impressions Signing to Vee Jay Records ...

Article

David B. Coplan

South African musician, was born in the small Zulu Christian settlement of Siyamu, near Edendale, Natal, in 1895, the only child of Mordecai and Mejile Caluza. Caluza was the great-grandson of one of the original converts who arrived at Edendale with the Reverend Mr. Allison in the late 1840s. Multi-part vocal music had strong roots in Zulu indigenous culture and for the Christians of Edenvale served as an important expression and symbol of progress, self-improvement, and “civilization.” Caluza came from a family that was notably musical even by Edendale’s high standards, and his grandfather, John, was renowned for his ability to read staff notation and conduct a choir.

Reuben s family and in laws also included teachers preachers landowners writers and other members of the Zulu westernized elite of the period Between the time of Reuben s birth and the Great Depression this class of self employed Christian ...

Article

Eric Gardner

musician, educator, and activist, was born to free parents in Drummondtown, Accomack County, Virginia. His father died when Carter was about eight, and his mother, whose maiden name was probably Drummond, cared for Dennis. When one of his cousins, Henry Drummond, was bound out to an area slaveholder named Thomas R. Joynes because of his status as an orphan, Carter's mother began to fear that her son would also be enslaved should something happen to her. Determined that her son stay free, she moved with him to Philadelphia in about 1825. There Carter's musical talents flowered, in part under the tutelage of the famous black Philadelphia bandleader Francis Johnson.

Carter toured with Johnson's band sporadically during the 1830s, 1840s, and early 1850s, reportedly joining Johnson's 1837 trip to Great Britain and an 1851 trip to Sulphur Springs Virginia In addition to working as a musician Carter ...

Article

Gordon Root

Manno Charlemagne was raised by his aunt in the working-class neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he was born. As a boy, he was surrounded by the desperate violence and destitution of these poverty-stricken districts. According to Charlemagne, some of his earliest boyhood memories include images of people fleeing bullets or making homemade bombs. The extreme poverty that he encountered from such an early age helped to cultivate his acute sensitivity to political injustice. Later, as an angaje (politically engaged) musician, this awareness became his trademark and his ticket to success both in music and in politics.

Charlemagne began singing and playing guitar at the age of sixteen. In 1968 he formed his first band, a Mini-Jazz group called Les Remarquables. His second group, Les Trovères, provided the artist with his first involvement in twoubadou music It was in this environment that Charlemagne first began to address the social ...

Article

Christopher Ian Foster

gospel and pop musician, pioneer black record-company owner, and civil rights activist. Samuel Cook [sic] was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to the Reverend Charley Cook and Annie Mae Cook. The musical aspects of his father's preaching deeply influenced Cooke's formative years. According to Mahalia Jackson, a popular gospel singer, the church had a special rhythm retained “from slavery days” (Wolff, p. 21). Clarksdale also was home to Delta blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James. The milieu in which Cooke grew up was musically oriented and deeply religious.

At the age of sixteen Cooke joined the fledgling gospel quartet the Highway QCs, which catalyzed his later initiation into the more widely recognized group the Soul Stirrers. In 1951, with Cooke singing lead, the Soul Stirrers recorded the hit single “Jesus Gave Me Water.” Between 1951 and 1957 the year Cooke ...

Article

Cynthia Staples

was born in Bloomfield, Kentucky and little is known about his early life. In the 1880s, while singing in his local church, he either received encouragement or independently developed a desire to become a professional singer. In order to accomplish this, he traveled to New York City in that same decade and quickly became acclimated to the musical world. He worked a series of odd jobs to make money so that he could pay for professional voice, language, and music lessons from instructors such as voice coach John Howard. His teachers introduced him to a world of music he had not known before. He fell in love with opera, a classical form of music that, for Drury, was far more uplifting than the popular and too often derogatory minstrel shows of the late nineteenth century.

In 1889 with the aid of private benefactors who today are largely unknown Drury ...

Article

John Garst

bootblack, barber, porter, actor, singer, and politician, was born William Henry Harrison Duncan in Columbia, Missouri, to former slaves. A close friend, Henry Massey, persuaded him to come to St. Louis, where he was a “sport, a jolly fellow, a swell dresser, a ladies' favorite, but, above all, he was a magnificent singer.” As a member of Massey's Climax Quartet Duncan gained fame for his low, smooth, rich, sure, bass voice. He was also an actor and performed regularly at the London Theatre in St. Louis.

In Clayton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, Duncan was hanged for the murder of an Irish American policeman named James Brady in Charles Starkes's saloon at 715 N. 11th Street. A popular ballad complex (“Duncan and Brady,” “Brady and Duncan,” “Brady,” “King Brady”) arose after the murder.

At about 8:30 p.m. on 6 October 1890 ...

Article

Robert Todd Duncan was born in Danville, Kentucky. By the time he auditioned for Porgy and Bess creator George Gershwin in 1935, Duncan already held a master's degree from Columbia University and had been a professor of voice at Howard University since 1931. Eschewing the traditional Spirituals that other performers had sung as audition pieces, Duncan sang an obscure Italian aria, and Gershwin offered him the part. Duncan did not immediately accept, however. As a classically trained Opera singer who years later described himself as a “stuffed shirt” and who thought of the popular Gershwin as merely a composer of show tunes, Duncan insisted on first hearing Gershwin's music for the opera. The music convinced Duncan to play Porgy. His performance in the original Broadway production in 1935, as well as in revivals in 1937 and 1942 earned him lasting acclaim from reviewers who considered ...

Article

Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer, college and music conservatory professor, composer, activist, and genealogist, the youngest of seven children, was born in Columbia, Tennessee, and reared in Louisville, Kentucky, where his family moved in search of suitable employment and better schools. Andrew's mother, Lue Vergia Esters Frierson, was a homemaker. His father, Robert Clinton Frierson, was a laborer.

At age three Frierson first dramatically showcased his musical talent. One afternoon he accompanied his mother to the home of an old family friend where there was a piano. Frierson saw the instrument, went to it, and instinctively began to play recognizable songs. Frierson's mother and her friends were astounded because he had never even seen a piano. By the age of five Frierson was playing all over the town.

After four years of piano study with William King and graduation from high school Frierson went to ...

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crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

Article

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack

Born into a poor Russian-Jewish family in Chicago, Benny Goodman studied clarinet at Jane Addams's Hull House. A musical prodigy, he performed professionally at age twelve and in a traveling band at sixteen. As a teenager, Goodman became famous for playing “hot” clarinet solos, improvising like the New Orleans musicians who had invented jazz. Success in studio and radio work led Goodman to form his own touring band in 1935, which received mixed reviews until it played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935. Teenagers who had heard Goodman's broadcasts packed the club, and “swing” music was born. While no one agreed exactly what “swing” was, promoters quickly dubbed Goodman the “King of Swing.” On 16 January 1938 he became the first jazz bandleader to play Carnegie Hall, the country's premier high-culture musical venue.

Goodman was one of the first big name bandleaders ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

musician, activist, author, painter, and sculptor, was born Richard Pierce Havens in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of nine children. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. His father, Richard Havens, worked as a metal plater and dreamed of becoming a professional pianist, eventually learning to play a number of instruments. Richie's mother Mildred a bookbinder and casual singer at home encouraged her young son when he started singing background vocals at the age of twelve for local groups All kinds of music were played in the Havens home Richie s grandmother listened to Yiddish gospel and big band music his mother enjoyed country music and his father loved jazz He joined the doo wop singing group the Five Chances at age fifteen and performed the next year with the Brooklyn McCrea Gospel Singers a group that sang hymns for neighborhood churches Havens ...

Article

David Bradford

guitarist, teacher, composer, arranger, and civil rights advocate, was born in Norfolk County, Virginia, to Exum Holland a farmer. His mother's name is not recorded.

Justin Holland recognized at an early age that rural Virginia offered few opportunities for an ambitious young African American. Born on a farm in Norfolk County to free parents in 1819, Holland was only fourteen when he set out for Boston. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery (in 1783 and Boston had a small but comparatively thriving black population Holland found work that provided in his words a good living in nearby Chelsea and became immersed in the energetic cultural life of the city He had shown a knack for music from a young age but farm life provided little opportunity to develop musical talent Now inspired by the performances of Mariano Perez one of the ...

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Regina N. Barnett

hip-hop and DJ pioneer, was born Jason William Mizell, the youngest of Connie and Jessie Mizell's three children. The family lived in Brooklyn, New York, where his mother Connie was a teacher and his father Jessie was a social worker. Moving to the Hollis neighborhood of Queens from Brooklyn in 1975, Mizell quickly became a respected and powerful force in that small neighborhood. While Mizell was a student at Andrew Jackson High School, teachers and students alike would ask him to stop altercations between students because of his dominating presence and amiable nature. Mizell dropped out of high school but eventually obtained his equivalency diploma. Drumming, playing the guitar, and socializing with friends took up most of Mizell's free time. Mizell credited a desire to be “part of the hottest thing” as one of the main reasons for becoming a DJ in an interview with DJ Times ...