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David Dabydeen

Africanjournalist and nationalist born in Egypt of Egyptian and Sudanese parentage. At the age of 9 or 10 Ali was sent to England to be educated. He never returned to Egypt and spent most of his time between 1883 and 1921 living in Britain. During this period, he was poverty‐stricken, attempting to earn a living through his pen and tour acting. Ali published Land of the Pharaohs in 1911, an anti‐imperialist book that became a significant contribution to the decolonization efforts in the United States and West Africa.

In 1912Ali and John Eldred Taylor, a journalist from Sierra Leone, inaugurated the African Times and Orient Review (1912–20), a magazine that sought to deal with anti‐colonial issues that not merely embraced Pan‐African matters, but incorporated Pan‐Oriental topics as well. The journal was inspired by the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911 which advocated ...

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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 ...

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Patrick O'Connor

Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921.

Josephine Baker like many other African ...

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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 ...

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Marinelle Ringer

journalist, author, and public speaker, was born Melba Joy Pattillo in Little Rock, Arkansas, the daughter of Howell “Will” Pattillo, a hostler's helper for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and Dr. Lois Marie Peyton Pattillo, a junior high school English teacher who was among the first African Americans to attend the University of Arkansas (graduating in 1954). In 1957, spurred by the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, mandating public school desegregation, Beals, at the age of fifteen, became one of the first African American students—later known as the “Little Rock Nine”—to enroll in Central High School, then Arkansas' finest high school.

Prior to 1957 Beals s deepest anguish had been her parents divorce when she was seven She found solace in the hours she spent with her cherished grandmother India Anette Peyton while her mother worked and studied and ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

record executive, producer, and activist, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1940 or 1941. In 1945 his family moved to Little Rock, where Bell later graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the city's Philander Smith College, following this with uncompleted ministerial training; he worked as a disc jockey throughout high school and college. In 1959 Bell began working at workshops run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His SCLC involvement was short-lived, which Bell attributed to a difference in philosophy, explaining that King's strategy of nonviolent confrontation differed from his belief in the power of black capitalist entrepreneurship in effecting social change.

Bell then worked full time at several radio stations first at WLOK in Memphis where his laid back style helped boost ratings and then at WUST in Washington D C where he introduced ...

Article

Gordon Root

Ignacio Villa, known by his stage name, Bola de Nieve, was born and grew up in a poor neighborhood in Guanabacoa, Cuba. His parents introduced him to Afro-Cuban music when he was a child, and he was exposed to European classical music in his formal studies. His classical training began when he studied privately with Gerado Guanche. Later Villa enrolled in the Conservatorio de José Mateu, where he studied mandolin and flute as well as piano.

At home Villa absorbed many elements of traditional Afro-Cuban music through his contact with Rumba and other rhythms and dances. It has been suggested that his parents participated in African-based religions and that young Ignacio had been educated in the music and practices of Afro-Cuban religion as well.

As a boy Villa helped support his family by performing in house for neighborhood audiences His professional career began in the 1920s ...

Article

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

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

Roanne Edwards

Known for her integrity and her powerful oratory skills, Shirley Chisholm is widely considered one of the foremost female speakers in the United States. With a character that she has described as “unbought and unbossed,” Chisholm became known as a politician who refused to allow fellow politicians, including the male-dominated Congressional Black Caucus, to deter her from her goals. In 1969 her first statement as a congressperson before the United States House of Representatives reflected her commitment to prioritizing the needs of the disadvantaged especially children She proclaimed her intent to vote No on every money bill that comes to the floor of this House that provides any funds for the Department of Defense While Chisholm advocated for civil rights for African Americans she regularly took up issues that concerned other people of color such as Native Americans and Spanish speaking migrants She also delivered important speeches on ...

Article

Daniel A. Dalrymple

Chisholm made a career out of breaking down barriers. She was both the first black woman to be elected to United States Congress and the first woman or African American to mount a serious run at a major party’s nomination for president. Chisholm forged a strong reputation for doing things her own way, spurning both the New York Democratic political machine and political decorum. Despite the obstacles that came with bucking the system, Chisholm always held her ground on important issues such as abortion, women’s rights, and civil rights.

Chisholm was born the eldest of three sisters to West Indian parents, Charles St. Hill and Ruby Seale in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn New York Shirley s father worked as a baker s helper and later a factory hand and her mother found employment as a seamstress However Hill and Seale quickly realized that their wages were insufficient ...

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Julie Gallagher

politician, women's rights advocate, and educator. Chisholm was born Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York, to Charles St. Hill and Ruby Seale, immigrants from the Caribbean island of Barbados. During the Depression, Chisholm and her two younger sisters were sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados. They stayed there for seven years. Chisholm claimed that her sense of pride in herself and her race came largely from her father, an ardent follower of Marcus Garvey.

Chisholm attended Brooklyn College from 1942 to 1946, where she developed her oratorical skills in the Debate Society. At the same time, her membership in the Harriet Tubman Society and the Political Science Society stimulated her racial and political consciousness. Her leadership skills attracted attention, and one of her professors suggested that she consider entering politics.

Chisholm's career in early childhood education spanned nearly two decades. Between 1946 ...

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Patricia E. Canson

U.S. congresswoman, was born Shirley St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest daughter of Charles St. Hill, a laborer born in British Guiana (now Guyana), and Ruby Seale, a seamstress born in Barbados. Shirley's first three years were spent in Brownsville, a predominantly Jewish area of Brooklyn. Finding the wages for unskilled factory work insufficient to care for three children properly, the St. Hills sent their three daughters to Barbados, where they lived with their maternal grandparents on the family farm. Shirley credits her grandmother Emily Seale with instilling in her a strong character and determination.

The girls returned to Brownsville in 1934 after their mother gave birth to another daughter Despite the social and financial hardships of the Depression Ruby encouraged her children to respect the values of civility thrift poise humility education and spirituality though the sisters endured a substantial amount of teasing in the ...

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David A. Gerber

educator, politician, and civil rights leader, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Michael Clark, a barber, and his wife (name unknown). Clark was the product of a complex, mixed racial ancestry that formed the basis for a lifelong struggle to find a place for himself in both the white and African American worlds. The oral tradition of Peter Clark's family and of the Cincinnati African American community contends that Michael Clark was the son of the explorer William Clark, a Kentucky slaveowner who had children by his biracial slave Betty. Major Clark is said to have freed Betty and their children and settled them in Cincinnati. There she married and started another family with John Isom Gaines an affluent black man who owned a steamboat provisioning business Though it was never authenticated there is little doubt that Peter Clark himself believed the story of this ...

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Princess Mhoon Cooper

dancer, choreographer, artistic director, educator, and activist, was born in Effingham, South Carolina, the eldest of three daughters of Jack Cummings and Carrie Cummings sharecroppers who grew tobacco and cotton When Blondell was a year old the Cummingses like many African American families of the mid twentieth century migrated to the North While both her parents had relatives who previously moved to New York it was Jack who followed two of his four church singing brothers to the city to pursue careers in the commercial music industry Upon the family s arrival in Harlem Jack found work as a taxi driver and Carrie earned a living as a domestic and later completed school to become a health care professional Cummings described her upbringing as very strict and typical of most black families Her mother was the disciplinarian and while her father was not an authoritarian together they ran a ...