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Donna Waller Harper

dancer, choreographer and actress, was born Deborrah Kaye Allen in Houston, Texas, to Andrew Allen, a dentist, and Vivian Ayers-Allen, a poet and librarian; her parents had two other children, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Allen, better known as Tex. Although she exhibited an early interest in dance and desired to join the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she was denied admission when she applied in the 1950s in what her mother saw as a clear example of discrimination. Her parents were able to pay for private ballet lessons with the Ballet Russes. She later traveled and trained in Mexico City with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964 she returned to Houston where she once again auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet This time she was not only accepted to the prestigious organization but was awarded a scholarship Her talent won her ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

(now Suffolk), Virginia to Florence Avery. He was one of three children whom his mother raised on her own. When he was still very young, his family moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he spent most of his early life. After graduating high school in 1963, Avery enlisted in the Navy, serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

After leaving the military, he relocated to San Diego, California and began writing for PBS. He won an LA Area Emmy Award for a show he produced, Ameda Speaks: Poet James Avery. He received a scholarship from the University of California, San Diego, from which he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor s degree in Literature and Drama Writing was always what he aspired to do professionally but his rich voice and imposing physical presence opened the door to an acting career He performed in community plays ...

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

Born in Brooklyn, New York, St. Clair Bourne is the son of St. Clair Bourne Sr., who was an editor of the Amsterdam News and a reporter for the People's Voice in the 1930s. Although the younger Bourne began his education at Georgetown University in 1961, he was expelled for student activism. In 1967 he received a B.A. degree from Syracuse University after working with the Peace Corps. He began a degree in filmmaking at Columbia University in 1968, but was again asked to leave because of his political activities.

From 1968 until 1970 Bourne was a producer, writer, and director for the public-television series Black Journal. He established his own company, Chamba Productions, and produced African American documentary films such as Something to Build On (1971) and Let the Church Say Amen! (1973). In 1974 he received the Bronze ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

actor, performer, was born in Evansville, Indiana, to Sam Brooks, a choir singer and tool and die worker active in local unions, and Eva Crawford Lydia, a music teacher and one of the first African American women to graduate from Northwestern University. The family relocated to Gary when Avery was eight years old. There he attended the local schools before matriculating at Indiana University and Oberlin College, though he left both schools before taking a degree.

Soon, Brooks enrolled at Rutgers University, and it was from there that he received a Bachelor's degree in arts in 1974 and, in 1976, a Master's degree in fine arts. He was the first African American at that institution to accomplish the latter. That same year, he married Vicki Lenora, a dean at the school. The couple went on to have three children.

After graduation Brooks stayed on ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

actor, voiceover artist, director, and writer, was born to Sylvanus, a Baptist minister, and Lovie (Lee) in Woodbury, New Jersey. Browne attended Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a literature degree in 1946, and went on to do graduate work at Middlebury College and Columbia University. He also studied in Italy. He competed in college track and was the Amateur Athletic Union indoor track champion of the one-thousand-yard run. While attending college, Browne was named an All-American athlete.

In 1946 Browne embarked upon two careers, teaching English, French, and literature at his alma mater, Lincoln University, while also holding a sales position at the Schenley Import Corporation. He left teaching in 1952 but kept his sales job until 1956 meanwhile another profession had caught his attention He joined the acting company at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven Connecticut and then he won his first acting job ...

Article

Meredith Broussard

actor and director, was born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. in Landstuhl, Germany, to Levardis Robert Burton Sr., a career army photographer, and Erma Christian. The couple separated when their son was three. Erma returned to the United States with her son and his two elder sisters and settled in Sacramento, California. The family were devout Roman Catholics, and Burton decided at thirteen to enter a Catholic seminary to become a priest. While there, he changed his mind and decided to become an actor instead.

Burton's big break came while he was a drama student at the University of Southern California's School of Theatre. While playing Ali Hakeem, the Persian rug dealer in the musical Oklahoma!, he tried out for the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley s landmark book tracing the generations of his family through America and back to Africa Burton landed the part ...

Article

Mark D. Cunningham

comedian, producer, and actor, was born David Khari Webber Chappelle in Washington, D.C., the youngest of three children. His parents, William David Chappelle and Yvonne Seon, were both educators. His father was a professor of the arts at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and his mother, who earned an MA in Divinity Studies and a PhD in African American Studies, founded the world's first African American Studies Program at Ohio's Central State University in 1974. She also worked closely with Patrice Lumumba, the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the early days of civil unrest in the African country. Chappelle's parents separated when he was two years old. He divided his time between living with his mother in Washington, D.C., and spending summers with his father in Yellow Springs.

Despite his parents professions Chappelle was not an enthusiastic student ...

Article

Evan Mwangi

Moroccan novelist, dramatist, and radio commentator and producer, was born on 15 July 1926 in the French Moroccan town of Mazagan (present-day el-Jadida), near Casablanca. His father was a fairly liberal tea merchant who regarded European education as a vestibule to a better Moroccan society. As a young boy Chraïbi received his early education in a local qurʾanic school, but when the family moved to Casablanca a little later, he joined a French school. In 1946 he left for Paris to study chemical engineering, graduating in 1950. However, he abandoned his graduate studies in neuropsychiatry just before receiving his doctorate. He traveled across Europe and to Israel, settling in France with his first wife, Catherine Chraïbi (née Birckel), and their children.

From 1952 Chraïbi devoted himself to literature and journalism, and in 1954 he began writing for the National Radio and Television Broadcasting System Ranging from epics to comedy ...

Article

Stephen Bourne

Trinidadianactor and singer who settled in Britain in 1944. Two weeks after his arrival he made his debut on BBC radio in Calling the West Indies. Connor's appealing voice and charming personality endeared him to the British public, and he became a major television and radio personality. Connor saw himself as an ambassador for Trinidad and promoted Caribbean folk music and dance wherever he could. He married Pearl Nunez (also from Trinidad) in London in 1948.

For almost two decades Connor played featured roles in a number of British and American films, including Cry, the Beloved Country (1952) and Moby Dick (1956). In 1958, when Paul Robeson turned down the role of Gower in Shakespeare'sPericles for the Stratford Memorial Theatre he recommended Connor for it Connor thus became the first black actor to appear in a Shakespeare season at ...

Article

Curtis Jacobs

was born Edwin Esclus Connor in Mayaro, in the southeast corner of Trinidad on 2 August 1913 into a black family. His mother was a member of the Moravian Archer family of Tobago. His father was from a Roman Catholic Trinidadian family. Both were cast out of their respective families when they decided to marry. The Anglican Church offered sanctuary.

Mayaro was a place of cultural ferment where most of Trinidad s folk art and culture abounded and provided the basis of his career in the performing arts Being born into a musical family Connor was a singer in great demand at concerts by the time he reached his teens His formal education began at ten and at fifteen won a scholarship to the Royal Victoria Institute to study at Port of Spain the capital of Trinidad and Tobago His sister told him You do not belong to us you ...

Article

Alexander J. Chenault

television show host and producer, was born the son of a postal worker and a homemaker on the predominantly black South Side of Chicago, Illinois. In 1954, after graduating from DuSable High School, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1956 he married his childhood sweetheart, Delores Harrison, with whom he had two sons, Anthony and Raymond. After a subsequent divorce, he married Viktoria Chapman in 2001. The couple divorced in 2009.

When he returned to Chicago after eighteen months of service in Korea, Cornelius held several different jobs, first working as car salesman, then selling tires and insurance before a stint with the police department. While issuing a traffic ticket, Cornelius was advised by the motorist he had stopped that with his resonant voice, he should get into broadcasting. The driver, Ed Cobb was a radio personality and he hired Cornelius as an ...

Article

Sam Lorber

DJ and broadcasting executive, was born Frank Michael Crocker in Buffalo, New York, the only child of Mrs. Frances Crocker. There is some disagreement about his date of birth, which some sources have reported as 1940. Little is known about his early life; only that he began his career as a DJ while still a prelaw student at the University of Buffalo and also attended the University of Southern California. In the early 1960s Crocker was hired by WUFO, a local daytime AM station that served Buffalo's black community. During this time he developed his rich vocal delivery and created the smooth, confident persona that would attract listeners and give him the platform to ascend to larger markets such as New York City, where he established himself in the early 1960s at R&B station WWRL. In 1969 he became the first black DJ at all white AM ...

Article

Gregory Adamo

radio DJ and programmer. A central figure in the mainstreaming of African American culture on radio, Crocker appealed to both black and white audiences without compromising any of his cultural identity. Born in Buffalo, New York, he got his start in radio at WUFO when he was studying pre-law at the University of Buffalo. During the 1960s he was the most popular DJ on the soul and rhythm and blues station WWRL in New York City. In 1969 Crocker moved to the top 40 New York station WMCA, becoming the first black member of that station's popular “Good Guys.” In doing so Crocker broke new ground for African Americans in the number one radio market in the United States.

As music listeners migrated from AM to FM in the early 1970s so did Crocker moving to WBLS as DJ and program director There Crocker created the urban contemporary format ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

reporter and columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier, New York City radio journalist, special assistant to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, and member of several government panels on women's advocacy and cultural institutions, was born Evelyn Elizabeth Long in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. She was the only daughter and eldest child of Clyde L. and Mary Irvin Whitehurst Long.

Her father ran a pool hall in Elizabeth City, then moved the family, including son Clyde W., born in 1918, to New York. He found work there as a hotel bellman, and later drove a taxi, while Mary Long found work as a dressmaker to a private family. In New York, Evelyn Long graduated from Hunter College High School in 1934 During a life of ninety four years she married four times outliving all four husbands She had no children and took the name she used professionally ...

Article

Hilary Mac Austin

Suzanne de Passe learned from her mentor, Berry Gordy, that “a business based on principles is more important than a business based on revenue.” She has held true to that motto. Amazingly, in the cutthroat, white-male-dominated world of Hollywood, she has not only survived but succeeded magnificently.

One of the first and still one of the only African American women powerbrokers in the television and film businesses, Suzanne Celeste de Passe grew up middle-class in Harlem. Her parents, both West Indian, were divorced when she was three. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father worked for Seagrams. He remarried six years after the divorce and is credited with providing de Passe with a strong role model. De Passe attended an elite, integrated private school in Manhattan, the New Lincoln School. While still young, she began modeling clothes designed by DeVera Edwards.

De Passe entered Syracuse University as ...

Article

Claranne Perkins

music executive, television and film producer, and screenwriter, was born in New York, New York. Her father worked for Seagram's and her mother was a schoolteacher. Her paternal grandfather was a physician in Harlem.

Her parents divorced when she was three but managed to maintain a supportive environment for their daughter. She spent the week with her mother and the weekend with her father. He remarried when de Passe was nine, and the three adults formed a supportive alliance that continued to nurture de Passe.

She lived the elite life of prominent black families in New York. She summered on Martha's Vineyard; attended the private, progressive, and integrated New Lincoln School; graduated from Manhattan High School; and entered Syracuse University in 1964 She found the university and its extremely small African American student body not to her liking so transferred to Manhattan Community College to major ...

Article

David Borsvold

actor, writer, and director, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, to William Henry Duke Sr., a machinist, and Ethel Louise Duke, a domestic worker who later became a practical nurse. He had one sister. As a child Duke was tall and big for his age. Introverted by nature, he preferred to write about his feelings rather than talk about them with other kids. Duke's parents, neither of whom finished elementary school, emphasized to him the importance of education. During his school years he developed an interest in writing poetry. When his high school English teacher caught him writing poetry in a textbook during class, she confiscated the book and secretly submitted Duke's poems to the National Poetry Contest. Duke's work won first place.

Duke s parents hoped that he would go into medicine or teaching and after earning an associate of arts from Dutchess Community ...

Article

Tiffani Murray

actor, was born Charles Stanley Dutton in Baltimore, Maryland. When he was a teenager Dutton quit school and joined his peers on the street corners of Baltimore. He earned the nickname “Roc,” a shortening of “Rockhead.” What started as simple fights between teens throwing rocks at each other turned lethal when Dutton was only seventeen. It was then that he was stabbed eight times. In retaliation he took his attacker's life.

Dutton was sent to prison in 1967 where he gained a passion for reading due in part to the time he spent in solitary confinement for insubordination He was released on parole after two years but returned to jail on a weapons possession charge His sentence was lengthened when he attacked a prison guard The turning point during his internment occurred when a fellow inmate stabbed him severely damaging one of his lungs Refusing to retaliate Dutton ...