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Randall Clark

actress and singer, was born Eliza Virginia Capers in Sumter, South Carolina. Nothing is known of her parentage or her early education. She attended Howard College and studied voice at Julliard University before pursuing a career as a singer and actress. One of the results of her classes at Julliard was that she became proficient in several languages, a skill that would serve her well in her later career.

While barely into her twenties, Capers met Abe Lyman. Leader of the popular Lyman Orchestra, he offered Capers the opportunity to tour with his orchestra and perform on his radio program. She put her linguistic abilities to good use on Lyman's radio program, where she was sometimes called upon to sing in Yiddish; after the program left the air in 1947 she was able to find roles in Yiddish theater productions in New York City She was also ...


Kate Tuttle

Born in New York City, Diahann Carroll grew up in a comfortable, middle-class home. She began singing in a church choir for children at age six, and won a music scholarship sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera when she was ten. Carroll's mother, who often took her to Broadway musicals and other performances, encouraged her to apply to New York's High School of Music and Art, which accepted her.

Carroll, who had been born Carol Diahann Johnson, took her professional name at sixteen when she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Search, a television showcase for aspiring performers. Despite her parents' wish that she attend Howard University—she had earned money for college by modeling for Ebony magazine Carroll stayed in New York She left college after one semester at New York University to accept a long term nightclub engagement Soon thereafter Carroll went on the road ...


Casey McKittrick

singer and actress, was born Carol Diahann Johnson in the Bronx, New York, the elder daughter of John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mable, a nurse. Carroll, who had a younger sister Lydia, began performing at an early age in school plays and as a “tiny tot” in the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir of Harlem. At age ten she won a scholarship for voice lessons at the Metropolitan Opera and later attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan alongside Billy Dee Williams.

At the age of 15, Carroll began modeling clothes for Ebony magazine. Although she enrolled at New York University to study sociology, her passion for vocal performance won out. In her early college years she won a weekly televised talent competition called Chance of a Lifetime for three consecutive weeks This national recognition spurred her bookings in New York venues beginning in ...


Hilary Mac Austin

Diahann Carroll was only six when she joined the Tiny Tots choir at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Her life appears to have been a nonstop rollercoaster ride ever since. As she said in Diahann: An Autobiography, “All I ever wanted to do was sing. What happened was more.”

Carroll grew up in Harlem, New York, although she was born in the Bronx as Carol Diann Johnson. Her parents were John and Mabel Faulk Johnson. She has one sister, Lydia, thirteen years younger. Her father was a subway conductor, and her mother, who trained as a nurse, stayed at home to raise her daughters. The household, while not wealthy, was solidly middle class.

At the age of ten, Carroll won a music scholarship through an organization affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera. At fourteen, she got her first modeling job with Ebony magazine and by the age of ...


Courtney Q. Shah

singer and actress. Carol Diahann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York. As a teenager she performed as a nightclub singer and a model while attending the famous New York High School of Music and Art. She made her film debut in 1954 in Carmen Jones, working with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Paired again with Dandridge, Carroll had a role in Porgy and Bess (1959). Film and television appearances continued, including an Emmy nomination in 1963 for her work in the crime drama Naked City.

In 1968 Carroll made television history by becoming the first black actress to star in her own series. NBC's Julia received both popular praise and critical acclaim, and Carroll received an Emmy nomination in its first year. Generations of African American performers remember Carroll's Julia as a turning point providing inspiration that roles for black actors ...


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 ...


crystal am nelson

jazz drummer and medical inventor, was born Ronald Edwin Gardiner in Westerly, Rhode Island, to Maude Hannah Francis, a homemaker, and Ralph Alton Gardiner, a chef. The youngest of four sons, Gardiner was a precocious child. At only three and a half—when he was already tap-dancing—he asked for a toy drum for Christmas. His parents obliged so that he would stop playing on his mother's pots and pans.

After graduating from high school, he remained in Westerly and played at weddings and parties. In 1951 Gardiner moved to New York City to study privately with Charlie Tappin at the Henry Adler Music School. In 1953 during one of his weekend train rides back from Westerly to New York, Gardiner played an impromptu performance with Charlie Parker one of jazz s most influential saxophonists Gardiner returned to Westerly after four years of studying to work as Westerly ...


Alisha Lola Jones

singer, recording artist, and actress in musical theater and television, was born the oldest of three children in Riverside, Texas, to Omie Lee, a pastor, and Jennie Thomas Holliday, a schoolteacher. Jennifer was raised by her mother, who encouraged and supported her young daughter's interest in music. Later, her mother would remarry and have more children.

As a teenager, Holliday sang in Houston's Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. It was when she was seventeen and singing in the choir that a dancer in the touring company of A Chorus Line named Jamie Patterson heard her and recognized her potential as a vocalist. He bought her a ticket to go to New York to audition for the director Vinnette Carroll's revival production of the musical Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God. Carroll was impressed and Holliday won a part. In 1981 her ...


Leyla Keough

Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her father left home when she was only three, and her mother departed to pursue an acting career, leaving the child in the care of her paternal grandmother, a civil rights activist and suffragist in Brooklyn.

Horne's mother returned to take her daughter on tour with her. Eventually, her mother remarried and the family returned to New York, where Horne attended high school. But financial difficulties forced her to quit school and obtain a position as a chorus dancer at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. She was hired for her beauty, but she worked diligently to improve her singing by taking lessons, and she became known for her sultry voice. Horne then accepted a role on Broadway in Dance with Your Gods (1934 and afterward left the club to sing with Noble Sissle s Society Orchestra ...


Harry Sumrall

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 30, 1917; d New York, NY, May 9, 2010). American actress and popular singer. She began her professional career as a dancer in the Cotton Club, Harlem, when she was 16 years old. She then toured as a singer with several black American dance bands, including those of Noble Sissle and Charlie Barnet, and appeared in the Broadway musical Blackbirds of 1939. In 1941 she began a singing engagement at Café Society Downtown, New York, where she worked with the bandleaders Teddy Wilson and Sid Catlett. She then went to Hollywood to sing at the Little Troc and shortly afterwards became the first black performer to sign a contract with a major studio (MGM). Her roles in a number of films, which included Panama Hattie (1942), Cabin in the Sky (1943), Stormy Weather (1943 ...


David F. Smydra

singer and actress, was born Lena Calhoun Horne in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, the only child of Edna Scottron and Edwin “Teddy” Horne. Besides the extremely light-skinned Edna, only Horne's equally fair grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, was present at her birth, misleading the hospital staff into expecting a white baby, not the “copper-colored” child who was in fact born. The character of Horne's middle-class family was best embodied by her grandmother, an outspoken suffragist and member of the NAACP (in which she enrolled Horne at age two), and her uncle, Dr. Frank Smith Horne, an educator and occasional adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the Hornes divorced in 1920 Edna pursued a mediocre performance career with the Lafayette Players while Edwin by most accounts a racketeer moved to Pennsylvania Horne accompanied Edna on her travels throughout the South but eventually ...


Kathleen Thompson

The great-granddaughter of a freed slave, Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was a gambler and a racketeer, her mother a struggling actress. Both of them, however, came from respectable middle class families, and, as a girl, Horne was surrounded by that respectability. She and her parents lived with her paternal grandparents, Edwin and Cora Horne, until her mother and father divorced when she was three.

Edwin Horne was a co-founder of the United Colored Democracy, a lobbying group. Cora Calhoun Horne was a suffragist and a bold defender of black rights. “My grandmother took me to her meetings,” said Horne in an interview for I Dream a World,

from the time I was little until I was fifteen She was in the Urban League the NAACP and the Ethical Culture Society I was surrounded by adult activities if I hadn ...


Martha Wilson

actress and singer. Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Edna Scottron and Edwin “Teddy” Horne. Her mother was an actress, and her father worked in the gambling business. Her parents separated when she was a child, and Horne was raised by her paternal grandparents and uncle. Horne's grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, was an activist and took Horne to meetings of the NAACP, National Urban League, and suffragette groups.

At sixteen, Horne sang and danced at Harlem's Cotton Club. She appeared on Broadway a year later in Dance with Your Gods. She married Louis Jones in 1937 and they had a daughter, Gail, and a son, Teddy, who died of kidney failure in 1970. Horne and Jones divorced in 1944.

Horne was the first African American performer to sign a long term contract with a Hollywood film studio when she signed ...


Joshunda Sanders

popular singer and actress, was born Janet Damita Jo Jackson in Gary, Indiana, the youngest daughter of Katherine Jackson and Joe Jackson, the latter a music manager. She was one of nine children in a family that produced the Jackson 5, a popular music group led by budding megastar Michael Jackson. Janet Jackson dreamt of acting as a child, but her father persuaded her to sing because it was more lucrative, she told writer David Ritz in a 1998Rolling Stone interview. At seven, she performed with the group's revue in Las Vegas, imitating Mae West. “Sweetness does appear to be her essential nature, but she was taught as early as age seven, that sweetness plus sex is a selling combination,” Ritz wrote in Rolling Stone (p. 38).

The family moved to Encino California in the early 1970s Jackson appeared in acting roles on television shows like Good Times ...


Shantina Jackson

singer and actor. Janet Damita Jo Jackson was born to Joseph Jackson and Katherine Jackson in Gary, Indiana. Joseph found work as a crane operator in Gary's booming steel industry, making enough money to allow Katherine to remain a housewife. The tremendous success of the Jackson Five, a pop-music group composed of Janet's brother Michael Jackson and four other of her brothers, allowed the Jackson family to move to California in 1969 as Gary's steel industry underwent a serious decline. Janet Jackson was never a member of the Jackson Five but was gradually integrated into the singing act. She and her brothers made history in 1976 when CBS cast the family in The Jacksons, the first variety show on television hosted by a black family. Janet Jackson continued acting throughout the 1970s and 1980s, appearing in the television shows Good Times, Diff'rent Strokes, and Fame ...


Baron Kelly

dancer, actress, and singer, was the youngest of three girls born to Lehman Clarence Kelly and Ruth Naomi Dempsey in Jacksonville, Florida. When Kelly was six months old, the family, like many other African Americans at this time, migrated from the South to the North seeking a new life. The family settled in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, where her father became superintendent of the building and famous neighbors included Ralph Ellison, Billie Holiday, Billy Strayhorn, and Johnny Hodges. The family was close and communicated through a love of music and a joy of life. For Kelly, music was always the thread and remains the catalyst for most of her projects.

Before she was old enough to walk, Kelly would bob her head to the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Buddy Johnson When she was a young ...


Gabriela Pulido Llano

was born in Mexico City on 9 July 1942. His parents, Juan José Laboriel and Francisca López de Laboriel, were musicians, composers, and actors from La Ceiba, Honduras, a region inhabited by Garifuna people of indigenous and African descent exiled from their native St. Vincent by the British in the late eighteenth century. His musical influences included Little Richard, Paul Anka, and Felipe Gil. His brothers, Francis and Abraham, and sister, Ella, were musicians and actors. A third generation of the Laboriel family—Johnny’s sons, Emmanuel and Juan Francisco, and niece, Muriel—formed the ensemble Ahari in 2011 to play Afro-descended music. They performed representative rhythms of the Tercera Raíz (literally “third root,” referring to the African influence on Mexican culture), such as jazz, funk, blues, samba, salsa, and guajira. Ahari means spirit in Garifuna In addition Johnny s brother Abraham became one of the most famous bassists in ...


Sharon D. Johnson

singer, nightclub entertainer, and actress, was born Barbara Joan McNair in Chicago, Illinois, and raised from the age of three in Racine, Wisconsin. McNair's father, a foundry worker, and her mother, a housekeeper at an institution for mentally disabled children, recognized her vocal musical gifts early on. After discussions with McNair's teachers, her parents decided that she should receive formal training in music. McNair went on to study at the Racine Conservatory of Music and Chicago's American Conservatory of Music, and later majored in music at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied for one year before deciding to move to New York City in the early 1950s.

Once she arrived in New York McNair secured a secretarial job at the National Federation of Settlements to support herself while she went to open auditions at various nightclubs in the city Even after she was hired ...


Curwen Best

singer, rapper, and actress, was born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark, New Jersey, to Lancelot Owens, a police officer, and Rita Owens, a high school art teacher. When Dana was eight years old her mother and father divorced, and that same year a cousin nicknamed her Latifah (which means “delicate, sensitive” in Arabic). She played for her school basketball team, sang in the choir of her local Baptist church, and rapped and beat-boxed with the group Ladies Fresh while in high school.

In 1988 Latifah's friend and fellow hip-hop artist DJ Mark the 45 King helped her work up a demo and passed it on to Yo! MTV Raps host Fab Five Freddy who facilitated her signing to Tommy Boy Records She released her first single The Wrath of My Madness Princess of the Posse that year and by the time she graduated ...


Rachelle Gold

singer and actress. Queen Latifah was born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark, New Jersey. Her parents, Rita Owens and Lancelot Owens Sr., encouraged Dana to play guitar and basketball when she was a child, and these talents helped her develop into a singer and two-time New Jersey state basketball champion. Throughout her childhood, she was very close to her older brother, Lancelot Jr. Her father was a police officer, and her brother became a police officer too, following in his father's footsteps. Her parents divorced in 1978, the same year that a cousin who was studying Arabic nicknamed Dana “Latifah,” which means “delicate” or “sensitive.”

Following the divorce Rita Owens wanted to relocate her children out of the housing project in which they lived and to finish her college degree During this time she enrolled her daughter in a private Catholic school Saint Anne s where Dana ...