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Article

Alice Bernstein

carpenter, newspaper editor, and state representative during Reconstruction, was born free, of “unmixed African blood,” in New Bern, North Carolina, to Israel B. Abbott and Gracie Maria Green. His father died in 1844, and Abbott was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Hannah, the wife of Bristow Rue (Rhew). His mother's second husband was Nelson Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Hannah Cora, and stepsons Samuel H. Brown and George M. Brown. She married her third husband, the Reverend Joseph Green, a Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, in 1854. When Abbott was four, his grandmother contributed one dollar toward his education, and he attended a school taught by Mrs. Jane Stevens. He went to school regularly until age ten, when he began serving two years as apprentice to a carpenter, completing his trade with his stepfather, Joseph Green ...

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Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

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Darshell Silva

oral historian and centenarian, was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who were slaves brought to the United States from Barbados. She was moved to Dunk's Ferry in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when she was ten years old to be with her master, of whom no information is available. There Alice lived as a slave, collecting ferry fares for forty years of her life.

Alice was a spirited and intelligent woman. She loved to hear the Bible read to her, but like most other enslaved people she could not read or write. She also held the truth in high esteem and was considered trustworthy. Her reliable memory served her well throughout her long life.

Many notable people of the time are said to have made her acquaintance like Thomas Story founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane which was the precursor to ...

Article

Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

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Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

Article

Patrick Brode

fugitive slave and abolitionist, was originally named Jack Burton after his enslaver, a Missouri planter. His parents are unknown. Raised in his master's household, Anderson (the name he used in later life) eventually supervised other slaves and farmed his own small plot. In 1850 he married Maria Tomlin, a fellow slave from a nearby farm, and devoted himself to buying their freedom. In the meantime he had become accustomed to visiting Maria at her plantation and was growing impatient with the restrictions of slavery. His master tried to curb his wandering, but Anderson refused to submit to the lash. When this resulted in his sale to a planter on the far side of the Missouri River, Anderson resolved to run off.

On 3 September 1853 the third day of his escape he encountered a planter Seneca Digges and four of his slaves By Missouri law Digges had the ...

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Genaro Vilanova Miranda de Oliveira

better known as Lereno freeborn in Brazil from a Portuguese father and an Angolan mother rose to be a celebrated eighteenth century artist of the Portuguese Empire Details about Barbosa s childhood are largely unknown He was probably born in Rio de Janeiro just after his merchant father arrived from West Central Africa Barbosa s mother initially brought as a slave by his father was manumitted after giving birth so that the mixed descent child could be raised in freedom Because of his Iberian father Barbosa was able to enroll at a Jesuit school where he received instruction in liberal arts and philosophy including rhetoric and music He eventually moved to Portugal to study law at the prestigious University of Coimbra However following the death of his father and sponsor he was forced to prematurely abandon his studies and move to Lisbon Penniless he turned to the lyrical and poetic ...

Article

Michael Mizell-Nelson

jazz guitarist and banjoist, vocalist, and author, was born Daniel Moses Barker in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Moses Barker, a drayman, and Rose Barbarin Barker. Barker grew up in New Orleans with a largely absent Baptist father of rural origins and a mother whose familial connections to the Barbarin family, famed in New Orleans music, rooted him in the city's Creole of Color musical community. His childhood experiences immersed him in the cultures of both sides of his family: rural Protestant and urban Roman Catholic.

Barker's uncle, the drummer Paul Barbarin composer of the jazz standard Bourbon Street Parade started Danny on drums after trying the clarinet Danny decided to play multiple string instruments guitar banjo and ukulele A teenaged Barker played in spasm bands children s bands that featured rudimentary instruments often created from discarded objects Playing ukulele Barker led a spasm band named ...

Article

Baptiste Bonnefoy

was born Mariano de la Cruz on 14 September 1749, the illegitimate son of an unknown father and Feliciana Barros, who was described on her son’s baptismal certificate as a parda, a designation commonly applied in eighteenth-century Chile to free men and women of African descent. In 1769, at age 20, he married Josefa Guerrero Morales (1748–1842), a mixed-race slave of Inés Echevarría Portillo.

Barros established his candle making workshop with the financial assistance of someone named José Baeza and with the earnings from this shop he was able to buy his wife s freedom They would ultimately have ten children Barros s status as a master candle maker allowed him to join the black militia a group of free men of African ancestry who were charged with patrolling the city at night and protecting its stores and warehouses He soon became an officer in ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.

On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...

Article

Philip Herbert

Alias of Thomas Wiggins (1849–1908), famous slave pianist, described by Mark Twain as a musical prodigy. He was born in May 1849 in Columbus, Georgia, being blind, and in today's terms an ‘autistic savant’. The renowned lawyer James N. Bethune bought Wiggins's parents as slaves. Recognizing that Wiggins was a musical genius capable of imitating noises, improvising, and composing at 6, Bethune's daughter Mary taught him to play the piano.

In 1857 Bethune paraded Wiggins's talent across Georgia, meeting rapturous responses. Consequently, Bethune had tours organized by Perry Oliver (concert promoter) earning them $100,000 a year. Wiggins would play European classical music, improvisations, popular ballads, and his own compositions, examples of the last being ‘The Rainstorm’ (1865) and ‘Cyclone Gallop’ (1887).

The Bethune family forced him to tour the South performing to raise funds during the Civil War for the confederacy and its army ...

Article

William Lichtenwanger

minstrel performer and composer, was born in Flushing, Long Island, New York, the son of Allen M. Bland, an incipient lawyer, and Lidia Ann Cromwell of Brandywine, Delaware, of an emancipated family. Bland's father, whose family had been free for several generations, attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and in 1867 became the first black to be appointed an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office.

James Bland entered Howard University as a prelaw student in 1870 at the urging of his father but the subject and the life associated with it did not appeal to him Instead he was attracted to the minstrel show that was approaching its peak during the 1870s He played the guitar danced the steps sang the minstrel songs and most important composed songs for the shows A free black man who attended college for two years Bland had to learn ...

Article

also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges, one of the most accomplished musicians, composers, and fencing masters of eighteenth-century Europe, was born on 25 December 1745 on the plantation Saint-Robert in the town of Baillif, near the region of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. (Some sources give his birth year as 1739 Born a slave he was the son of Georges de Bologne de Saint Georges a wealthy white planter who had purchased a title of minor nobility and his black concubine Nanon a Senegalese house slave The ancestry of Joseph Bologne de Saint Georges places him from his earliest childhood at a precocious juncture of influences in the theater of revolutionary change in the Antilles encompassing multiple debates over slavery Although slavery had been abolished in France in the late eighteenth century it remained institutionalized in the colonies Created to normalize the life of slaves in the Antilles Le Code Noir initiated ...

Article

Mary Anne Boelcskevy

singer and actor, was born Ada Scott in Kansas City, Kansas, the daughter of H. W. and Anna Morris Scott. (Some scholars list her as being born on 1 May 1889 in Junction City, Kansas.) Nothing is known about her education, except that she began piano lessons at an early age. She also started singing in the local church choir, developing the voice that the historian Bruce Kellner calls “full, rich, and mellow” (Kellner, 55). Indeed, musical ability ran in Brown's family: Her cousin was renowned ragtime pianist and composer James Sylvester Scott.

Brown's professional life began in 1910, when she became a performer at Bob Mott's Pekin Theater in Chicago. Barely out of her teens, Brown also performed in clubs in Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany. In the early 1920s Brown joined Bennie Moten s band which was considered the Midwest s preeminent band During ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist, was born Willie L. Brown in New Haven, Connecticut, to Willie L. Brown Sr. and Dorothy Seay. At the age of thirteen, Brown began watching the situation comedy Soap, in which ventriloquist Jay Johnson played the character Chuck, with his wooden dummy Bob. This-was one of Brown's early inspirations to become a ventriloquist. His other influence was the legendary African American ventriloquist Willie Tyler Brown s mother purchased her thirteen year old son s first ventriloquist dummy as a Christmas present and he practiced three to four hours a day in front of the mirror to develop his skills before he made his first public appearance Brown felt that if he was not a good ventriloquist he would be made fun of for playing with dolls His rigorous practice schedule went on for several months until Brown performed in the annual talent show at Nationwide Insurance his ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Domingos Caldas Barbosa was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to a white father, Antonio de Caldas Barbosa, and a black mother, whose identity remains unknown. From an early age Caldas received a Jesuit education. He showed a predilection for poetry and musical composition.

While still a young man Caldas was drafted into the military and sent to serve in the Portuguese colony of Sacramento on the Rio de la Plata. Subsequently, Caldas obtained his discharge, returned home to Brazil, and then boarded a ship bound for Portugal. He arrived in Lisbon in 1763 and shortly thereafter enrolled at the University of Coimbra. It is unclear at what point Caldas's university studies were discontinued, but author Jane M. Malinoff asserts that the young poet took leave shortly after learning of his father s death Unable to independently support the cost of his education Caldas recalled ...

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

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 ...

Article

Camille A. Collins

blues musician, was born in Louisiana, and raised in McComb, Mississippi, fifteen miles north of the Louisiana border. While familial and personal details of Collins's life remain sparse, he has achieved an affirmed place in the cannon of American blues singers.

Collins's hometown lies beyond the Mississippi Delta, the region famed for giving rise to legendary blues artists such as Robert Johnson. Yet, the notion that the Delta was the only area rich in blues talent is a mythological one. In reality, much of Mississippi proved fertile ground for gifted blues performers.

Collins is best known for his unique vocalization, characterized by a rich, emotive, somewhat feminine timbre, often described as “falsetto.” In songs like the mournful “Jailhouse Blues,” he calls to mind female singers of the era such as Bessie Smith. Clearly, Collins's keening, plaintive style is attributable to the appellation “Crying Sam.”

Compositional innovation was ...

Article

Julia Sun-Joo Lee

slave and minister, was born in Maryland. The names of his parents are unknown. For the first twenty-five years of his life Cooper was known as “Notly.” He escaped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1800 and took the name John Smith. Employed at a lumberyard, he married a free black woman and had four children. Around this time Cooper's identity was betrayed by a friend. He was separated from his family and sent to Washington, D.C., to be sold at auction. He managed to escape and, with the help of a friend, return to Philadelphia, where he was reunited with his family. Still in danger of recapture, Cooper concealed himself at the home of a Quaker, where he stayed for a week while his master attempted to locate him.

Cooper fled to New Jersey where he was hired by a farmer His whereabouts were again discovered and Cooper escaped by ...