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Michele Valerie Ronnick

linguist, missionary, sociologist, and college teacher and administrator, was born in Anomabu in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). His father, Kodwo Kwegyir, traced the family lineage to Carthaginian times. His mother, Abna Andua, was his father's third wife, and James was one of seventeen children. He was baptized in 1883 and a few years later the Reverend Dennis Kemp, a Wesleyan missionary, transferred him and a group of other students to Kemp's Mission House for schooling. Aggrey then went to the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School. There the gifted student and natural teacher traded lessons in Fanti for those in Latin and French. He would later tell his nephew in 1912 that he had ranked first in everything in school including Greek and Latin After becoming an assistant teacher he often lectured to the lower grades about Caesar s Gallic campaigns and was said to have ...

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Ethan R. Sanders

intellectual, pan-African thinker, educator, and Christian preacher, was born in Anomabo, Gold Coast (now Ghana) on 18 October 1875. His father was Kodwo Kwegyir (1816–1896) of the Fante people who was the Omankyiame or hereditary spokesman for the paramount chief of Anomabo, and his mother was Abna Andua, scion of a chiefly family. At the age of eight, Aggrey left his home to attend the Methodist school in Cape Coast. In 1890 he started teaching in a rural village school and the following year returned to Cape Coast to become an assistant teacher at the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School where he soon advanced to a senior position At this early stage in his life Aggrey became interested in Christian ministry He began preaching at sixteen and later assisted in the translation of a Fante language New Testament During this time Aggrey also became involved with the ...

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Curtis Jacobs

was born Geraldine Molly Leotaud on 29 May 1933, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, into a mixed-race, middle-class, single-parent, devoutly Roman Catholic family. Her mother, however, was also a keeper of Shango religion, a legacy of the Yoruba peoples brought to Trinidad during the African slave trade.

She grew up in a hybrid cultural milieu of Christianity and Yoruba religious tradition (called “Ifa” today). She later recalled her early life as a Roman Catholic, with its elaborate ceremonies, and her love of participation in them, when she was allowed to carry the censer. Beginning in her teens, she was an avid student of dance, and met Beryl McBurnie, founder of the Little Carib Theatre, which first opened at Port-of-Spain in 1947. McBurnie, herself a dancer of some repute, was very interested in the traditional dances of the descendants of the formerly enslaved Africans. From 1952 to 1965 Molly ...

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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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

Debra L. Klein

master bata drummer and broker of Yoruba culture, was born on 6 August 1949 in the town of Erin-Osun in present-day Osun State, Nigeria. Ayankunle was born into a large extended family of traditional bata (double-headed, conically shaped drum ensemble) and dundun (double-headed, hourglass-shaped drum ensemble with tension straps) drummers. His father was Ige Ayansina and his mother was Awero Ayansina. Yoruba drumming lineages train their children in the art and profession of bata and dundun drumming. These families celebrate and worship orisa Ayanagalu (the spirit of the drum). Children born into an Ayan (drum family) lineage are given names beginning with the Ayan prefix, such as Ayankunle.

Passed down from generation to generation bata is a five hundred year old drumming singing and masquerade tradition from southwestern Nigeria The fifteenth century reign of Sango marks the earliest documented use of bata drum ensembles in royal contexts One of the ...

Article

Lois Bellamy

singer, music educator, choral director, was born in Sandfly, Georgia, a tiny hamlet of Savannah, one of thirteen children born to Daphne and Daniel Berksteiner. Her father worked as a carpenter, and her mother took in washing to make ends meet. In addition to the influence of her family, her early years were influenced by her church, the Speedwell Episcopal Church, and its school, Haven Home. It was at Speedwell and Haven Home that Constance received, first, religious instruction and, second, her introduction to academia.

Through her association with the church she received her first scholarship which enabled her to attend and graduate from the Boylan Home High School in Jacksonville Florida The specific point at which Constance realized she could sing is unrecorded There was the singing in the church as a child and in the choir in her high school years Perhaps the realization ...

Article

Barbara Garvey Jackson

composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, a pioneering black physician, medical researcher, and author, and Estelle C. Bonds, a music teacher and organist. Although legally born Majors, she used her mother's maiden name (Bonds) in her youth and throughout her professional life. She grew up in intellectually stimulating surroundings; her mother held Sunday afternoon salons at which young black Chicago musicians, writers, and artists gathered and where visiting musicians and artists were always welcomed.Bonds first displayed musical talent in her piano composition “Marquette Street Blues,” written at the age of five. She then began studying piano with local teachers, and by the time she was in high school she was taking lessons in piano and composition with Florence B. Price and William Levi Dawson two of the first black American symphonic composers both of whom were ...

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 ...

Article

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

Gayle Murchison

gospel singer and evangelist known as the “First Lady of Gospel,” was the tenth of thirteen children born to Hannah and James Caesar in Durham, North Carolina. Her tobacco-worker father, active as a local preacher and singer with his Just Come Four Quartet, died when Caesar was about seven. Her mother, who was partially disabled, ran a small store from the back porch of the house; the children worked to support the family. Educated in the Durham public schools, she played piano and sang with two sisters, a cousin, and occasionally one of her brothers at churches, schools, and other functions. She joined the Charity Singers, her earnings supplementing the family income. Known as Baby Shirley, Caesar joined her pastor Bishop Frizelle Yelverton of Mount Calvary Holy Church when he preached at churches in the Carolinas and Virginia (he also had a weekly local radio show). In 1951 Caesar ...

Article

Kip Lornell

gospel composer and teacher, was born in Duck Hill, Mississippi, the daughter of Burrell Campbell, a railroad worker, and Isabella Wilkerson. Lucy's mother was widowed several months after Lucy's birth, and the family soon moved from Carroll County to Memphis, Tennessee, the nearest major city. Lucie and her many siblings struggled to survive on their mother's meager wages, which she earned by washing and ironing clothing. Given the family's insubstantial income, it could afford a musical education for only one child, Campbell's older sister Lora. Lucie eventually learned to play piano, however, through her own persistence, a gifted ear for music, and a little help from Lora.

Lucie Campbell was a bright student who easily mastered elementary school and middle school, winning awards in both penmanship and Latin. Even before graduating from Kortrecht Senior High School (later Booker T. Washington High School as the class valedictorian she ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

was born in the town of Mujumi, Mhondoro province, Zimbabwe on 8 July 1946. She often asked to watch over her grandfather’s cattle herd so she could sing alone, and became determined to learn to play the mbira (thumb piano) as a young girl. However, Stella ran into much opposition in this youthful goal. The mbira is commonly associated with songs and rituals performed by men in the Shona ethnic community who believed they were communicating with ancestral spirits. Chiweshwe struggled for years to convince her family and others to allow her to master this instrument. Another problem was that Zimbabweans who went to her local mission church were forbidden to listen to traditional songs or perform on the mbira. When she was eight years old Stella attended a ceremony in which older people became possessed by ancestors while the mbira was played. Between 1966 and 1969 Chiweshe ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

gospel singer, arranger, and minister, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Benjamin Cleveland, an employee of the federal Works Progress Administration, and Rosie (Lee) Cleveland. Cleveland's father and grandmother, Annie Hicks, raised him. Hicks was a devout member of the Pilgrim Baptist Church and choir, where pianist and composer Thomas A. Dorsey served as choir director. During the Depression, James delivered newspapers to neighbors such as the gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. By the age of five he had a desire to play the piano like his childhood idol Roberta Martin of the Roberta Martin Singers. Since his family was too poor to afford a piano, he used his windowsill as an imaginary keyboard on which to master scales and chords. The church organist, Lucy Smith, provided Cleveland with formal instruction, and Roberta Martin took an early interest in his career At the age of eight ...

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Lois Bellamy

gospel singer, songwriter, pianist, actor, and humanitarian, was born in San Antonio, Texas, to a barber and a seamstress. His parents’ names are not recorded. He sang his first song at the age of five and began singing, as a teenager, at the Refugee Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in San Antonio. He also began studying classical piano at the same age. Dixon attended a local Catholic college on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue a music career. He began touring at seventeen and played black churches in California, Texas, and Louisiana.

Dixon was introduced to gospel music in his youth when his group performed at a theater in south Texas City, where gospel icon James Cleveland was in the audience Cleveland liked Dixon and persuaded him to move to Chicago as a teenager to join his group The Gospel Chimes Around ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Prince Far I was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town and grew up in the Waterhouse area of Kingston, Jamaica. His musical career began in 1970 when he convinced the Reggae producer Coxsone Dodd (who employed him as a security guard at Studio One, Jamaica's most famous recording studio) to let him record when a scheduled musician failed to appear for a session. Dodd was so taken by Prince Far I's talent as a DJ (someone chanting or talking-singing spontaneously over prerecorded rhythm tracks) that he released several Prince Far I recordings under the name he created for the performer, King Cry-Cry As he gained confidence and sought other producers for his recordings Williams changed his name to Prince Far I Distinguishing features of his recordings under the name King Cry Cry or Prince Far I include a thunderously deep bass delivery of intensively personal lyrics laced ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Aretha Louise Franklin grew from a young gospel singer into a successful and world-famous vocalist. Her many popular hits and gospel masterpieces have earned her the title Queen of Soul. As a daughter of the renowned Baptist preacher C. L. Franklin and his wife, well-known singer Barbara Siggers Franklin, Franklin was born into the world of Gospel Music. Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Detroit, Michgan, where her father drew a congregation of 4,500 people to his New Bethel Baptist Church. C. L. Franklin recognized his daughter's talent, and she was performing in New Bethel's choir by the age of eight. She sang solos at age twelve, and at fourteen she made her first recordings, including a version of Thomas A. Dorsey s gospel classic Precious Lord Take My Hand Franklin also began touring with her father singing wherever he served as ...

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 ...