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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 ...

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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 ...

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Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

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 ...

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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 ...

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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.

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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

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 ...

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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.

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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

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 ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

For many people, Josephine Baker's name will always evoke a well-known, controversial image: the “Black Venus” naked onstage, except for a string of bananas around her waist, dancing to African drums before her white Parisian audiences. It was this image that first made Baker a star, one whose international fame lasted for five decades. But the picture of the exotic dancer does not fully capture the complexity of the woman who was one of the first black performers to transcend race and appeal to audiences of all colors around the world.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Freda Josephine MacDonald the name Baker came from her second husband Her parents were not married her father was a drummer in a local band and her mother a washerwoman rarely had enough money to support Baker and her three younger half siblings At age eight Baker began working as ...

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Karen C. Dalton

dancer, singer, and entertainer, was born in the slums of East St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a drummer, who abandoned Baker and her mother after the birth of a second child, and of Carrie McDonald, a onetime entertainer who supported what became a family of four by doing laundry. Poverty, dislocation, and mistreatment permeated Baker's childhood. By the age of eight she was earning her keep and contributing to the family's support by doing domestic labor. By the time Baker was fourteen, she had left home and its discord and drudgery; mastered such popular dances as the Mess Around and the Itch, which sprang up in the black urban centers of the day; briefly married Willie Wells and then divorced him and begun her career in the theater She left East St Louis behind and traveled with the Dixie Steppers on ...

Article

Kariamu Welsh

Josephine Baker was the first and greatest black dancer to emerge in the genre now called “performance art.” She epitomized through dance what freedom of expression and artistic expression really meant for generations of artists worldwide. Baker was one of the few artists in the world who were acclaimed and awarded for being themselves. Her genius resided in her conception of music, dance, and comedy; she had a musician’s sense of timing, a dancer’s instinct for cutting a phrase, and a comedian’s ability to deliver a punch line even when it was in a song or gesture. Not merely an entertainer, Baker was in every sense of the word an artist, and it was as an artist that she made her mark on the world.

Baker was also a humanitarian who in her own unique and eccentric way tried to live by example She symbolized beauty elegance grace and most ...

Article

Asli Tekinay

singer and dancer. Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in a poor black neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, was twenty-one years old at the time and worked as a laundry woman. Her father, Eddie Carson a vaudeville drummer left his wife a year after Josephine was born Josephine thus grew up fatherless and in poverty When she was eight years old her mother hired her out to a white woman as a maid From then on Josephine was on her own in life An ambitious and optimistic child she learned to dance in the back streets of Saint Louis She went to the zoo watched kangaroos camels and giraffes and imitated their movements She wanted to be a great dancer and live a glamorous life At the age of twelve she dropped out of school and at thirteen her professional life began ...

Article

Burton W. Peretti

jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born William James Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of African American parents Harvey Lee Basie, an estate groundskeeper, and Lillian Ann Chiles, a laundress. Basie was first exposed to music through his mother's piano playing. He took piano lessons, played the drums, and acted in school skits. An indifferent student, he left school after junior high and began performing. He organized bands with friends and played various jobs in Red Bank, among them working as a movie theater pianist. In his late teens he pursued work in nearby Asbury Park, but he met with little success. Then, in the early 1920s, he moved to Harlem, where he learned from the leading pianists of the New York “stride” style, Willie “The Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Luckey Roberts, and especially Fats Waller, his exact contemporary.

Basie ...

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William Carney

orchestra leader. William “Count” Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1904. Although he received some formal musical training, much of Basie's skill as a musician was the result of self-teaching and apprenticeship to some of the leading jazz musicians of the early 1920s. After working with Fats Waller in New York City and playing the organ in Harlem movie houses, Basie went on the road with Gonzelle White and her jazz band in 1927. Stranded in Kansas City, Missouri, as a result of poor decisions by White and several promoters, Basie became a mainstay of the local jazz scene there. He played piano for some of Kansas City's leading dance bands before joining the Oklahoma Blue Devils in the early 1930s.

Basie was subsequently recruited by Bennie Moten who gave him the nickname No Count as a joke about Basie s alleged financial ...

Article

Although white clarinetist Benny Goodman was proclaimed the “King of Swing,” by all rights the title belonged to Count Basie. For nearly half a century, with the exception of a brief hiatus between 1949 and 1952, Basie headed one of the finest big bands in Jazz, one that has enjoyed an unrivaled longevity. No other jazz orchestra has continued so long under the same leadership. In fact, Basie led two distinct bands, which some critics designate the Old Testament and New Testament bands. The Old Testament band was Basie's aggregation from the mid-1930s through the 1940s; the New Testament band encompasses the Basie band from the early 1950s on.

The earlier band played hard-swinging, rough-around-the-edges Kansas City jazz and often used head arrangements—arrangements made up in rehearsal and memorized—rather than written charts. It featured brilliant musical stylists, including tenor saxophonist Lester Young, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry ...

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Hattie Ruth Roberts

Battle, one of the most acclaimed African American lyric sopranos, has entertained audiences all over the world. She has appeared in some of the world’s greatest opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera and the opera houses of Paris, Vienna, San Francisco, and Chicago, and made major appearances at the festivals at Salzburg, Ravinia, Tanglewood, Caramoor, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Mann Music Center, and at Cincinnati’s May Festival.

Kathleen Deanne Battle was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. Her father, Grady Battle, was a steelworker, and her mother, Ollie Battle a homemaker Battle grew up in a musical family the youngest of seven children and learned to sing at a very early age listening to her father who was a member of a gospel quartet Her sister taught her to read music and as she grew older she began playing the organ and piano She excelled in public schools ...