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Philip Herbert

Famous pianist in the United Kingdom during the 1950s, selling over 20 million records. She was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, in February 1914. She studied the piano as a child and had a local following. It was hoped that she would eventually work for the family business, after her training in pharmacy.

To gain further musical training, Atwell moved to the United States in 1945, and then came to London in 1946, to the Royal Academy of Music, to become a concert pianist. To sustain her studies, she performed piano rags at hotels, theatres, and clubs in London. By 1950 she had attained national celebrity, and signed to record with Decca. She recorded such hits as Let's Have a Ding‐Dong, Poor People of Paris, Britannia Rag, and many others. The Black and White Rag became the signature tune for the BBC's Pot Black ...

Article

Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...

Article

Jane Poyner

Orphan from Dahomey (now Benin) reputed to be of royal lineage, who was brought as a slave to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protégée. Sarah was named, ignominiously, after the ship Bonetta on which she was transported to England. Ironically, she was given to Captain Frederick Forbes by King Gezo of Dahomey in a conciliatory gesture following Forbes's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the King to give up trading in slaves. Forbes, in his account of his travels Dahomey and the Dahomens (1851), used Sarah as an example of the potential for progress in the intellect of the African at a time when pseudo‐scientific enlightenment theories of race were rampant: as Forbes noted, ‘it being generally and erroneously supposed that after a certain age the intellect [of the African] becomes impaired and the pursuit of knowledge impossible’.

Sarah was presented to Queen Victoria and thereafter raised under her ...

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 ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

hip-hop performer, songwriter, and actor, was born James Todd Smith in New York City. Raised in the St. Albans district of Queens, Smith was the only child of James Smith Jr. and Ondrea Smith, whose turbulent, abusive relationship led to their split when Smith was four years old; the boy and his mother moved in with her parents. Unfortunately, the trouble did not end there: when Smith was four, James Smith Jr. shot his ex-wife in the back and legs as she returned to her parents' house after work, wounding her father in the attack as well. Though both survived, this escalation of violence in his family marked the young James Smith throughout his life, and—according to his 1998 autobiography he credited this early turmoil and a later unfortunate reprise when his mother became the victim of further abuse by a later boyfriend with helping ...

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Andrew Du Bois

Born James Todd Smith in Queens, New York, LL Cool J was raised in the Hollis neighborhood, an area that also produced the pioneering rappers who formed Run-DMC. He adopted the performing name LL Cool J—short for “Ladies Love Cool James”—and released Radio, his 1985 debut album, which sported such signature songs as “Rock the Bells” and “I Can't Live Without My Radio.” It sold more than one million copies. The kid in the sneakers, gold chains, and Kangol hat rapped over spare, programmed beats that were sometimes splashed with rock guitar. In an art form founded on cocky sparring, LL Cool J was the king of the boast. Fans admired him for his cherubic looks and smooth style as well as for his lyrical skills.

While Bigger and Deffer (1987 LL s second release contained one of the all time great battle raps I m ...

Article

Chris Gavaler

author, actor, and Indian celebrity, was born in Winston, North Carolina, the son of Sallie Long, a nurse and midwife, and Joe Long, a janitor. Sylvester's light-skinned mother was born a slave weeks before the end of the Civil War and was the daughter of a plantation owner and an unknown Lumbee Indian. Long's father, also born into slavery, believed his own mother to be Cherokee and his father white Their claim to exclusively white and Indian ancestry established the Long family as the social elite of Winston s African American community After attending elementary school there Sylvester twice joined traveling Wild West circuses where he passed as an Indian and learned rudimentary Cherokee After returning to Winston and working as a library janitor Sylvester taught himself to type at night in the white school where his father mopped floors The principal suggested he apply ...

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Cecily Jones

Conjoined African‐American twins who became successful performers. Born into slavery in North Carolina, Millie‐Christine, as the girls were known, were often referred to as one person, and, indeed, often referred to themselves as such. While still in their infancy they were stolen from their parents, sold three times, kidnapped, and displayed as curiosities at fairs and shows across America. Their ‘owner’, the showman J. P. Smith, first exhibited Millie‐Christine as a ‘freak of nature’ to an American public avid for glimpses of this biological phenomenon. At each new venue the girls were forcibly and humiliatingly stripped and examined by physicians to prove to sceptics that the ‘two‐headed girl’ was no fraud.

A rival show owner stole Millie Christine and for two years he too toured America exhibiting them Fearing that they were about to be recaptured from him their new owner fled with them to Britian where they were ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

was born in Mbaise, Imo State, Nigeria, the fourth of eight children born to her father, a banker, and her mother, a teacher on 3 May 1979. Both parents viewed education as extremely important. Nnaji showed interested in drama at an early age and in 1987 at the age of eight was a child actress on the Nigerian soap opera Ripples After she completed primary school Nnaji went to the Methodist Girls High School in Yaba where she had a daughter Chimebuka Nnaji was extremely protective of her daughter s privacy and would not discuss the details surrounding her birth or the name of the child s father Chimebuka was largely raised by Nnaji s parents Nnaji graduated from secondary school and enrolled at the University of Lagos where she focused on drama and the arts She appeared in commercials for products such as Omo washing powder and ...

Article

RuPaul  

Monica Hairston

drag performer, singer, songwriter, and actor, was born RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, California, the only son of four children to Ernestine “Toni” Fontenette (a registrar) and Irving Andrew Charles (an electrician). RuPaul was close to his sisters Renae, Renatta, and Rosalind, and to his mother, particularly after his parents' bitter 1967 divorce. Shortly afterward, RuPaul moved in with Renatta and her husband in El Cajon, California, and then moved with them to Atlanta in the summer of 1976 While there RuPaul worked with his brother in law as a used car salesman but also attended the Northside School of the Performing Arts RuPaul s experiences as a drama major at Northside as well as his exposure to the liberating and bohemian climate in Atlanta fueled his desire to succeed as a performing artist RuPaul experienced his first drag queen performance ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Since the release of his 1992 debut album Supermodel of the World, RuPaul has become a nationally recognized celebrity. Although best known as a drag queen, he also enjoys surprising audiences by appearing as a man. “Drag queens are like the shamans of our society, reminding people of what's funny and what's a stereotype,” he told People Weekly writer Tim Allis in 1993. “I feel very powerful when I'm in drag, and when I'm out of drag I observe our culture.” Six feet, seven inches tall in heels, RuPaul is painfully aware of the contradictions of being a black man who wears a platinum wig and platform heels. “When I'm dressed up as this goddess,” he told Allis, “people trip over themselves to give me things. But as an African American male, I can walk into an elevator and have people clutch their handbags.”

Born RuPaul Andre Charles ...

Article

O.J. Simpson was born in a poor neighborhood of San Francisco, California, the third of four children. His father left the family when Simpson was a child. At a young age Simpson wore leg braces to correct weakness in his legs, but as a teenager at Galileo High School, he was a star athlete, participating in baseball, track, and football. At the same time Simpson received several suspensions from school for misbehavior. He graduated from Galileo in 1965, but his grades kept him from attending a major university. Instead, he enrolled at City College in San Francisco, where he had a remarkable first season of football and was offered several athletic scholarships. He remained another year at City College before meeting the admissions standards for the University of Southern California (USC), which he entered in 1967. That same year, he married his first wife, Marguerite.

Article

Steven J. Niven

football player, sportscaster, and actor, was born Orenthal James Simpson in San Francisco, California, to Jimmie Simpson, a cook, and Eunice Durden, a nurse's aide. The child disliked his unusual first name, which was-given to him by an aunt who had heard of a French actor named Orenthal. Sometime during his childhood—accounts differ as to when—he began using his initials “O. J.,” which friends later adapted to “Orange Juice” and, later, to “Juice.” When O. J. was four, Jimmie Simpson abandoned his wife and family, leaving Eunice to raise four children in a two-bedroom apartment in the run-down Potrero Hill public housing projects near San Francisco's Chinatown. Eunice Simpson worked long hours to provide for her children but it was often a hard struggle When O J contracted rickets as an infant for example he was left bowlegged and in need of leg braces that his ...