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Karen Backstein

dancer, choreographer, and educator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to a theatrical and musical family. One of New York's most superb and demanding jazz teachers, as well as an excellent choreographer, Benjamin began his career at the age of four, studying with Elma Lewis at her well-respected School of Fine Arts. Two years later, he started studying ballet, a requirement for all of Lewis's students, no matter which style they chose to focus on. When peer pressure led Benjamin to stop dancing briefly—a not uncommon situation for young male dancers—he shifted to acting, taking classes at Boston Children's Theatre. Two years later he returned to Lewis's school and found something new: George Howard, a teacher of Haitian dance. Still a child, Benjamin knew instantly that “that's the thing I wanted to do, with the drums and everything. It was so exciting to me” (Hall, 3).

Lewis ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Atlantic slave-trade survivor presented as a gift to Britain's Queen Victoria, was born in the early 1840s in or near the southern Beninese town of Okeadon. Her birth name is not known, but her marriage certificate would list her name as Ina Sarah Forbes Bonetta, perhaps indicating that her original name was Ina. Southern Beninese states had fought for years against the inland kingdom of Dahomey for autonomy, as the slave-trading empire sought to force its southern neighbors to pay tribute and accept Dahomean control over the slaves that were often sold to European and South American merchants. In 1846 Dahomean soldiers seized her and killed her parents during the Okeadon War between Dahomey and its enemies in the Yoruba city of Abeokuta after a traitor had allowed Dahomean troops entry to the town Bonetta was fortunate she did not join the 600 or so town residents ...

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Elena Bertoncini Zúbková

Swahili poet, scribe, calligrapher, woodcarver, performer, tailor, musician, and dance master, was born in Lamu on the northern coast of Kenya. Nicknamed Kijum(w)a, “little slave,” by his mother at his birth (hoping this nickname would be auspicious), his full name was Muhammad bin Abubekr bin Omar Kijumwa (also Muhamadi bin Abu Bakari, Mohamed Abubakar Kijumwa, and other possible transliterations from the Arabic script). He studied at the qurʾanic school, made the pilgrimage to Mecca three times, and became a renowned and versatile artist, who handed to his son Helewa the craft of carving the beautifully ornamented doors in Lamu. Among other skills, he made musical instruments and was a famous player of the kibangala a seven stringed lute He passed most of his life in Lamu but in the 1890s he worked as a scribe in the small protectorate of Witu inland from the Kenyan coast which was part ...

Article

Paul Devlin

professional musician and soldier in the French and Indian War and War of Independence, was the freeborn progenitor of a large Groton, Massachusetts, family. The family later spent time in Dracut and Pepperell, where they owned land. His father, Primus Lew, was a skilled artisan (a cooper, or barrel maker) and it is unclear if he was ever a slave and later freed, or was himself freeborn. The historian Benjamin Quarles claimed that Barzillai Lew was also a cooper, and it has been claimed that Primus was also a musician. His mother was named Margret; nothing else about her is known. Father and son both served in the French and Indian War, with Barzillai (also known as “Zeal”) serving for thirty-eight weeks in 1760 under the command of Thomas Farrington. In 1768 he married Dinah Bowman whose freedom he bought for $400 They later had at ...