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Jim Haskins

entertainer and nightclub operator, was born in Alderson, West Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Smith, a barber, and Hattie E. (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia, because her parents did not wish to disappoint the various neighbors and friends who offered suggestions for naming her, Bricktop received her nickname because of her red hair when she was in her late twenties from Barron Wilkins, owner of a nightclub called Barron's Exclusive Club in Prohibition-era Harlem.

Bricktop's father died when she was four, and her mother moved with the children to Chicago to be near relatives. Hattie Smith worked as a domestic in Chicago, and her children attended school. Bricktop showed early musical talent and interest in performing. She made her stage debut as a preschooler, playing the part of Eliza's son Harry in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin at ...

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Sara Dale

vaudeville dancer and jazz club owner, was born in Asheville, North Carolina to Jessie White and Rufus Greenlee. He had seven siblings: Percy, Nello, Premular Avery, Gustarena, Jenny Mae, Josephine, and Adrian. He moved several times in his life. First he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and later resided in New York City. As a young man he worked at a saloon on Coney Island in 1909, as well as working with traveling minstrel acts.

Greenlee learned dance at Miss Hattie Anderson's Dance School in New York City. Even at the age of twelve many people wanted to dance with him, especially a white performer known as Gertie LeClair. When he gained experience Greenlee transformed ballroom dancing, Russian dancing, and acrobatics. At the time he was one of few to tap dance to jazz music. He paired with Thaddeus (Teddy) Drayton in 1909 and partnered with Charles Johnson ...

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Leila Kamali

African‐American jazz vocalist and vaudeville star. Born on 20 October 1901 in Brooklyn, New York, Hall made her debut with the 1921 Broadway musical Shuffle Along. She went on to perform at Harlem's famous Cotton Club, alongside great bandleaders and musicians including Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway, and introduced her signature wordless phrase on the recording of ‘Creole Love Call’ in 1927.

From 1928 to 1929 Hall starred in the musical Blackbirds, the show that featured her notable hits ‘I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby’ and ‘I Must Have That Man’. Her solo concert tour brought her to London in 1931, and she visited again in 1938, appearing in The Sun Never Sets at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and this time settling in Britain.

Hall hosted her own radio series making her the first black star to be given a ...

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Barry Kernfeld

vaudeville, musical theater, and jazz singer and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of William Hall, a white man of Pennsylvania German roots who worked as a music teacher at the Pratt Institute, and Elizabeth Gerrard, an African American. She made many jokes about her birth year; on her birthday in 1991 she declared that she was ninety years old, hence the conjectural 1901.

Hall and her sister sang at school concerts. After her father's death she began her stage career. From its debut in 1921 and into 1922 she appeared in the pioneering African American musical revue Shuffle Along as one of the Jazz Jasmines chorus girls; she also sang a duet with Arthur Porter, “Bandana Days.” In the revue Runnin' Wild (1923) she introduced the song “Old Fashioned Love.” At some point in 1925 she ...

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John Gilmore

Alias of Aldwyn Roberts (1922–2000), calypsonian born in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago. He was already a successful performer in his native island when, while on a tour of Jamaica, he decided to join his fellow calypsonians Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore, 1904–80) and Harold Phillips (1928–2000) in taking a passage to England on the Empire Windrush.

Kitchener provided two of the most iconic images of post‐war Caribbean migration to Britain. The Pathé newsreel that recorded the arrival of the Windrush in 1948 featured a still youthful Kitchener singing ‘London Is the Place for Me’, which he had written on the ship, and later recorded on disc in 1951. And it was Kitchener who led the invasion of the pitch when the West Indies cricket team won at Lord's in June 1950 though it was Lord Beginner who celebrated those little pals ...

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Joe Street

DJ, producer, and recording and remix artist, was born Frank Warren Knuckles in South Bronx, New York City. Educated at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, Knuckles drew tremendous inspiration from the local gay underground music scene. In the early 1970s Knuckles and lifelong friend Larry Levan became regular faces at the Loft, an openly multiracial and bisexual club established by David Mancuso, who played a revelatory mix of soul, rock, African, Latin, and pop music. Mancuso and rival DJ Nicky Siano inspired Knuckles and Levan to start and in 1972 Knuckles took on his first regular gig, at Better Days. Between 1974 and 1976 he played nightly at the Continental Baths, an underground gay club, where he developed his own identity as a DJ, focusing on the slick disco productions of the Philadelphia International label. In March 1977 Knuckles at the opening ...

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James M. Salem

entrepreneur and record label owner, was born Don Deadric Robey in Houston, Texas, the son of Zeb Robey and Gertrude (maiden name unknown). Little is known of his childhood. Don dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade, reportedly to become a professional gambler in Houston nightspots frequented by African Americans; later he was suspected of being involved in the city's numbers operation. He also entered the taxi business prior to World War II and established a business in entertainment promotion, bringing name bands and celebrity attractions into segregated sections of the Houston area.

Though Robey opened his first nightclub in 1937, it was the postwar Bronze Peacock Dinner Club, opened in 1946, that he parlayed into an interconnected set of entertainment and music businesses that made him, according to the Houston Informer one of the city s foremost black business wizards Robey s skill ...

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A performer throughout her childhood, Ada Smith left school at age sixteen to begin her career as a singer and dancer in minstrel and vaudeville shows. Her bright red hair earned her the nickname “Bricktop.” She performed extensively in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In 1924 she began singing at Paris's Le Grand Duc, a nightclub favored by the Parisian elite and community of black expatriates, where she became acquainted with Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Pablo Picasso, among others. In 1927 she bought the club and renamed it Bricktop's; it became one of Paris's most popular nightclubs in the 1930s. Smith left Paris in 1939 because of World War II. A string of nightclubs she opened in the 1940s and 1950s failed, and Smith retired from the business in 1964, except for occasional singing engagements in the 1970s.

See also ...

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Shennette Garrett-Scott

hotelier and entertainment entrepreneur, was born William Nathaniel Wilson in Columbia, South Carolina. His mother, Rebecca (Butler) Wilson, worked as a cook and maid, and his father, William Wilson, whom Sunnie barely knew, worked as a Pullman porter and hotel waiter. As a young child, Rebecca moved Sunnie and his older sister Irene to live with his maternal grandparents. His grandfather's status as a doctor allowed him entrée into Columbia's elite black society. While in high school, he worked several odd jobs. One summer he went with his uncle to New York. His outgoing personality and a bit of good fortune landed him a job as a bellboy at the exclusive Lotus Club, a private millionaires' club. When he returned to South Carolina, he completed high school with the help of a private tutor and went on to study drama at Allen University in Columbia.

Wilson struggled ...