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James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

Roman Catholic religious leader, sacred music performer, and social justice activist, was born Bertha J. Bowman in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the granddaughter of slaves and only child of physician Theon Edward Bowman and high school music teacher Mary Esther Coleman. Baptized an Episcopalian, Bertha attended Methodist services. Growing up in segregated, impoverished Canton, Mississippi, she absorbed the spirituality and music of black community elders and her parents' own deep commitments to lives of service. At age ten, she chose to be baptized as a Roman Catholic because she admired the work of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) in Canton. In the face of public uproar, white nuns from this order taught black students at Holy Child Jesus Catholic School. Unable to read after five years of poor quality education in segregated public schools, Bertha finally became literate after transferring to this school in 1949 ...

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Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...

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 ...

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David B. McCarthy

musician, educator, and prominent Presbyterian, was born Melva Ruby Wilson in Due West, South Carolina, one of five children of Azzie Lee Ellis Wilson and John Theodore Wilson Sr., both of whom were college graduates and teachers. Because the local black public schools were unaccredited, her parents sent her to a black boarding school, Harbison Junior College in Irmo, South Carolina, at the age of fourteen. Two years later, at the age of sixteen, she entered Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. There she met fellow student James Hutten Costen. She graduated with a BA in Education in 1952 and married Jim Costen the day before he graduated in 1953. They eventually had two sons and one daughter, James Jr., Craig, and Cheryl.

Costen taught elementary school in the Mecklenburg County school system from 1952 to 1955 the year her husband ...

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Roxanne Y. Schwab

dancer and actress, was born Loletha Elaine Falana in Camden, New Jersey, to Bennet and Cleo Falana. Her Cuban father had immigrated to the United States a few years before and was working as a welder, housing the family at the Clement T. Branch Village public housing project in the Centerville section of Camden. A dancer at age three and a singer with the church choir at age five, Falana disregarded her parents' concerns about her future and opted to leave Germantown High School months before graduation to embark on a show business career in New York.

Sleeping in a subway car because she could not afford an apartment, Falana soon landed dancing gigs at Small's Paradise in Harlem and in the singer Dinah Washington's nightclub act. The performer Sammy Davis Jr. recognized Falana's potential and cast her in a feature role in his Broadway musical Golden Boy ...

Article

Werner Graebner

taarab singer, drummer, and healer, was born in urban Zanzibar. Her parents had migrated to the islands from the Kilwa area of Tanzania on the East African mainland. She is better known as Bi Kidude. Some controversy surrounds Kidude’s birthdate; considering all evidence, the latest she could have been born is around 1920. Growing up in suburban Zanzibar’s Ng’ambo area, she showed interest from a young age in taarab song, a genre of poetry sung to musical accompaniment developed in nineteeth- century Zanzibar. One of her uncles, Buda Suwedi, was a member of Siti Bint Saadi’s group, then the most popular singer in Zanzibar. Kidude attended night rehearsals at Saadi’s place, pretending to sleep in a corner or on the outside baraza bench, soaking up the songs, which still form her main repertoire today.

When Kidude was in her teens, dhows traditional Arab sailboats from all over the ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

boxer and businessman, was born George Edward Foreman in Marshall, Texas, the son of J. D. Foreman and Nancy Ree. His father, a railroad employee and a heavy drinker, was absent for much of George's childhood. His mother worked several jobs, including as a waitress, to support George and his six siblings.

As Foreman describes it his childhood was marked by intense want and hunger and an anger that often exploded into fighting Even at a young age he was larger than normal and he used his intimidating size to bully his peers He had little love for school although football in junior high school proved attractive for its violence and aggression Foreman did not last long in high school however By the age of fifteen he was spending most of his time on the streets of Houston where his mother had moved the family when he was ...

Article

Patrick Stearns

professional boxer, actor, product spokesperson, and minister. George Edward Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas, to J. D. Foreman and Nancy Foreman. By the seventh grade he had dropped out of school, engaging in petty crimes, such as muggings. At age sixteen he enrolled in a Job Corps training program in Oregon. While working at a conservation camp affiliated with the program, Foreman found that he had a talent for boxing, and he won the Corps Diamond Belt Boxing Tournament.

In 1968 Foreman made the U.S. Olympic boxing team and won the gold medal in the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Vietnam War protests, the rise of black nationalism, and episodes of civil unrest in U.S. cities after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination earlier in the year were a sign of the times. The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were also the scene ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

preacher, was born Clarence LaVaughn Pitman in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Elijah J. Pitman and Willie Ann Pitman, sharecroppers. Elijah served in Europe during World War I, returned to Mississippi briefly, and then departed. Shortly thereafter, Willie Ann married Henry Franklin, a farmer; the family took his name, and Franklin became Clarence's father. As a boy Clarence usually went to school from December to March, which was when he was not needed in the field. His mother took him and his stepsister, Aretha, to St. Peter's Rock Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir, and eventually became lead tenor. His father, religious but not a churchgoer, exposed Clarence to the blues idiom of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other soulful musicians.

At the age of nine or ten Clarence attended a revival meeting and took his first step toward a career in the ministry when he joined the ...

Article

Crystal Renée Sanders

Baptist minister and community leader. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was born in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Willie Walker and Rachel Pittman Walker, who were sharecroppers. Before 1920, his mother remarried, to Henry Franklin, who subsequently adopted Clarence. Young “C. L.” picked cotton with his parents and three siblings, which prevented him from completing grade school.

In the summer of 1931, Franklin preached his trial sermon at Saint Peter's Rock Missionary Baptist Church. He served as an itinerant minister for several years at churches throughout the Mississippi Delta. On 16 October 1934, Franklin married Alene Gaines, but little is known about the marriage. On 3 June 1936, Franklin married Barbara Vernice Siggers and adopted her young son, Vaughn. To this union were born four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. Aretha became a Grammy Award–winning singer.

Aware of the limited opportunities and ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Known as “the father of Brazilian music,” José Maurício Nunes Garcia gained recognition in the early nineteenth century as a composer of church music. He wrote hymns, masses, chants, antiphones, and Te Deums, and his Requiem Mass (1816) is considered by music scholars to be one of the most significant masses ever written in Latin America. Although he wrote mostly sacred music, he was influenced by secular styles, most notably by Italian opera and by the Viennese masters, Haydn and Mozart. One of Haydn's former students, the Austrian musician Sigismund Ritter von Neukomm, considered Garcia “the greatest improviser in the world on the clavichord.”

Born in Rio de Jainero, Garcia was the son of a Portuguese lieutenant, Apolinário Nunes Garcia, and a black woman, Vitória Maria da Cruz He studied harpsichord viola and solfège at the academy of Salvador José de Almeida e ...

Article

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and Episcopal minister, was born near Shoemakertown, New Jersey. Nothing else is known about his family background. Eloquent, forceful, and determined, Gardner earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and congregants. The great black nationalist Martin R. Delany considered him a man of “might and talent” who compelled whites to “recognize and respect” African Americans (Christian Recorder, 29 Apr. 1880). Theodore Dwight Weld, a celebrated antislavery lecturer, considered Gardner one of the country's leading black orators, and in 1837 Gardner became the first African American to address an annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

He began his ministerial career in 1809 as an itinerant Methodist preacher visiting churches throughout the Chesapeake region The experience led him to condemn the institution of slavery and the colonization movement which aimed at the expatriation of free blacks to Africa His criticism of Methodist slaveholders especially ...

Article

Elizabeth D. Schafer

radio broadcaster, was born in Talladega County, Alabama, the son of Roy and Edna Garrett, tenant farmers. Although Garrett's father was illiterate, his mother could read and write and was concerned that her children be educated. By age five Garrett was literate and attended school with his siblings. He also helped his brothers and father farm the land they rented.

Not much is known about Garrett's childhood. By the 1940s he was living in Birmingham, Alabama, where he owned a dry cleaning business. Garrett also worked as a disc jockey at “soul” station WVOK and used his personal records and turntables. In 1957, motivated by the opportunity to secure a broadcast frequency and determined to establish a radio station, Garrett moved to Huntsville, Alabama. He was denied a building permit by the city government, however, and was arrested when he began construction without one.

Garrett protested the ...

Article

was born in St. Kitts on 17 September 1925. Griffith learned to play the organ at the Methodist Church in St. Kitts before migrating to Trinidad in November 1943. She began missionary work in Trinidad by visiting hospitals and praying with the sick. Following a vision, she was baptized as a Shouter Baptist in 1951 by Pastor Lacaille, one of the leaders of the faith during the years of prohibition engendered by enactment and enforcement of the 1917 Shouters Prohibition Ordinance, which was repealed on 30 March 1951. Several years later she another vision: that of a short, dark man, clad in a black suit, felt hat, and tie. A few days later a man with a remarkable likeness to the man in her vision walked into the yard of her church. He was Elton George Griffith the leader of the public campaign to repeal the ...

Article

Andrew Du Bois

Born Stanley Kirk Burrell in Oakland, California, MC Hammer made his album debut in 1988 with the self-produced Let's Get It Started. His style—frenetic beats and chanted lyrics—did not impress the Hip-Hop cognoscenti, but the album sold over one million copies and set the stage for one of hip-hop's biggest surprises. Buoyed by the genial dance floor anthem “U Can't Touch This,” Hammer's second album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt ‘Em (1990) held the top spot on the charts for 21 weeks, becoming the biggest-selling Rap album in history.

Hammer was a better entertainer than a rapper his live shows were energetic spectacles intricately choreographed events that highlighted the hugely popular dance routines of Hammer and his massive entourage The artist s videos distilled the live experience into simple but effective blasts that found heavy rotation on MTV Hammer won three Grammy awards two for U Can ...

Article

Judith Weisenfeld

actor, singer, and minister, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Charles Haynes, a bricklayer, and Mary (“Mollie”) Leech, an office cleaner. Haynes was educated in the Atlanta public schools and graduated from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church–affiliated Morris Brown College.

Haynes worked as a porter in Atlanta and as an itinerant preacher before securing a job in the records division at the Standard Life Insurance Company in Atlanta around 1915. Founded by Heman Edward Perry in 1913, Standard was one of the nation's few black life insurance companies, and Haynes gained valuable business experience working with one of the most active black entrepreneurs in America. While at Standard, he also met Harry Herbert Pace, the company's secretary-treasurer, with whom he would later work in New York. Haynes registered for the draft in 1917 and according to one source ...

Article

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues artist, was born Nehemiah James in Yazoo County, outside Bentonia, Mississippi, the son of Eddie James and Phyllis Jones. His father, reputed to be a musician and a bootlegger, moved north to Sidon, near Greenwood, to evade the law, leaving Skip with his mother on the Woodbine plantation, where she worked as a cook. After an attempt to reunite the family in Sidon failed, Skip and his mother returned to Bentonia, where he attended St. Paul School and Yazoo High School. At the age of eight or nine, inspired by local musicians—particularly the guitarist Henry Stuckey—Skip persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. At the age of twelve he took one piano lesson from a cousin. Unable to pay for more lessons, he continued learning on an organ owned by an aunt.

After dropping out of high school at about age fifteen James went to ...

Article

Milton C. Sernett

John Jasper was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation ox cart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper's master sent him to Richmond a third time to work at Samuel Hargrove's tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell.

Jasper experienced conversion about mid-August 1837 while working in Hargrove s tobacco warehouse Of his conversion Jasper said ...

Article

Milton C. Sernett

Baptist preacher and orator, was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation oxcart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper's master sent him to Richmond again to work at Samuel Hargrove's tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell.

Jasper experienced conversion about mid-August 1837 while working in Hargrove s tobacco warehouse Of his conversion Jasper said I ...