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Article

Roberto Ramos-Perea

was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Born with a handicap in his legs that made him resemble a dwarf, he was the first son of Nicolás Alonso Marini, a carpenter, and Matilde Pizarro, a woman of African, Amerindian, and European descent. Both were descendants of freed slaves.

Alongside his training in cobbling and carpentry, Manuel soon acquired a thorough literary education under the tutelage of his private teacher Fabriciano Cuevas Sotillo, also from Guayama. Even though he distinguished himself as an excellent student, the circumstances of poverty in which his family lived required Alonso Pizarro to focus his efforts on the family’s cobbling business.

In 1884 he moved to Mayagüez, where he joined the Sociedad de Artesanos Unión Borinqueña, which commissioned Alonso Pizarro’s first play Me saqué la lotería (I Won the Lottery) in 1886. A playful one-act comedy, Me saqué la lotería was set among the jíbaro ...

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Suzi Takahashi

actor, director, educator, and artist advocate, was born Osceola Marie Macarthy in Albany, Georgia, of black, white, and Native American racial heritage. The daughter of a life insurance executive, Archer attended Fisk University Preparatory School in Nashville, Tennessee. She then enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1909, where she was a pupil of Alain Locke and the sociologist Kelly Miller. Self‐defined as a suffragette, in 1913, her senior year at Howard, Archer and twenty‐one fellow female students cofounded one of the largest black fraternal organizations in the United States, Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority dedicated to community service and the mutual support of African American women. That same year Archer began to pursue her interest in drama by performing the title role in the Howard University Dramatics Club production of The Lady of Lyon a Victorian romantic comedy known as a showcase for actors ...

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Wendi Berman

playwright, actor, director, singer, and dancer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the third child of Gloria Diaz Bagneris and Lawrence Bagneris Sr. Bagneris's mother was a housewife and deeply religious woman who “quietly outclassed most people,” and his father was a playful, creative man, a World War II veteran, and lifelong postal clerk. Bagneris grew up in the tightly knit, predominantly Creole Seventh Ward to a family of free people of color that had been in New Orleans since 1750 From the age of six he had a knack for winning popular dance contests and during christenings and jazz funerals he learned more traditional music and dance By the mid 1960s the once beautiful tree lined neighborhood in which he was raised fell victim to the U S government s program of urban renewal known colloquially as Negro removal A freeway overpass was ...

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Heather Martin

theatrical producer, director, actress, playwright, and singer, was born in Zanesville, Ohio, one of five children (three girls and two boys) of Harrison James Bryant, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and Edith Holland Bryant, a social worker. The family lived in Ohio, Kentucky, and Baltimore, Maryland. Bryant acknowledged her parents, sisters, and religion as the main influences in her life. Her talent as a singer was evident when she performed in church choirs. After graduating from Peabody Preparatory School of Music in Baltimore in 1958, Bryant attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. She continued her music training at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and studied opera in Vienna and Venice. She toured Eastern Europe with the Robert Shaw Chorale.

With her European training and singing experience Bryant returned to the United States in the early 1960s to pursue a career as an opera singer ...

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Sharon D. Johnson

director, playwright, and actress, was born in New York City, the elder of two daughters of upper-middle-class parents, Edgar E. Carroll, a dentist, and Florence Morris, a teacher, both from Jamaica, West Indies. When Carroll was three, her parents sent her and her sister Dorothy to live with their grandparents in Falmouth, Jamaica, while Carroll's father completed his dental training at Howard University. Seven years later Carroll and her sister returned to New York, where their father's dental practice was thriving. The family's town house in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem eventually became a hub of activity that included frequent gatherings of neighborhood children and black community leaders.

Raised to be an achiever Carroll absorbed this intellectually and culturally charged atmosphere Her mother made sure that Carroll took music lessons and attended diverse cultural events particularly those featuring black artists Although Carroll wanted to become an actress ...

Article

David Krasner

Bob Cole was born Robert Allen Cole, Jr., in Athens, Georgia, the son of Robert Allen Cole, Sr., a successful carpenter and political activist in the black community. Cole received musical training in Athens and finished elementary school after his family moved to Atlanta. He made his first stage appearance in Chicago, performing in Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show in 1891; later he became the show's stage manager. He and his partner, Stella Wiley, moved around 1893 to New York, where they performed in vaudeville. Cole and Wiley may have married, but there is no evidence; by the end of the 1890s they had parted company. Returning to Jack's Creole Show Cole soon emerged as the headliner developing his popular stage character the tramp Willy Wayside During the mid 1890s he formed the first school for black performers in ...

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Gene Jones

actor, director, producer, lyricist, librettist, composer. Bob Cole was, arguably, the most versatile theater talent of his day, black or white. His array of skills, his ambition and energy, and his showbiz pragmatism permeated the first era of black musical theater. Indeed, the era began when, in 1897, he wrote, directed, and starred in the first full-length black musical comedy. He had hit songs, hit shows, vaudeville and stage stardom, and international triumphs as songwriter and entertainer. If Bert Williams was the face of black Broadway, Cole was its muscle, a multitasking dynamo who could do everything that needed doing to make shows.

Robert Allen Cole Jr. was born in Athens, Georgia, to parents who had been slaves. His father, Robert Cole, was a carpenter who was occasionally active in local politics, and his mother, Isabella Thomas Cole was a housewife ...

Article

Elton C. Fax

Born in Texas, Sherman H. Dudley, like many Southern blacks who resented being addressed by their first names by whites, used only his initials in an effort to ward off the insult. In the tradition of most black performers of his day he worked the medicine-show circuit. Talented singers and dancers often began their professional careers as performers hired by itinerant street salesmen of patent medicines. The performances were designed to attract prospective buyers to the hucksters' medicinal wares. Most such entertainers of the South were blacks, many of them mere boys.

While still in his twenties, Dudley joined the McCabe and Young Minstrels, working as a comic end man who called himself Hapsy. He followed that stint by teaming with singer and dancer Dude Kelly and performing as a substitute for Sam Lucas at Broadway s Star Theater So successful was the pair of substitutes that they ...

Article

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, director, educator, and screenwriter, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the three children of Lillian (Anderson) and Charles H. Fuller Sr., a printer who instilled in his son the love for words. Fuller was raised in northern Philadelphia in an integrated neighborhood. When he was thirteen he saw his first theatre performance at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The experienced made a lasting impression on him. Later, he became a voracious reader. His readings made him aware of the cultural and racial biases he made his life's mission to correct.

Success did not come easy to him, though. After graduating high school in 1956 Fuller attended Villanova University in hopes of becoming a writer There he was confronted with racism for the first time as a student being told by his professors that writing was not a good profession ...

Article

Charles Sidney Gilpin, the youngest of fourteen children, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Caroline Gilpin, a nurse, and Peter Gilpin, a laborer in a steel-rolling mill. Gilpin's first job, as a printer's assistant at the Richmond Planet, taught him skills that would later be useful between theatrical engagements, but by the age of eighteen he had begun touring nationally with minstrel groups such as the Perkus and Davis Great Southern Minstrel Barn Storming Aggregation (1896) and The Smart Set (1905).

Gilpin's first dramatic appearances were at the Pekin Theater in Chicago (1907–1911)—the first legitimate Negro theater—and with various touring companies. In 1915 he joined the Anita Bush Players at the Lincoln Theater in New York; the group soon combined with the Lafayette Theatre Company, also in Harlem. There, Gilpin was both star performer and director.

Charles Gilpin made ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Chiquinha Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro to an unwed mother of mixed race. After being officially recognized by her father, she received all the trappings of an education befitting the daughter of a military man so that she might serve in the court of Pedro II. After a strict upbringing she married a wealthy commander in Brazil's merchant marines when she was still a teenager; yet, much to her family's chagrin, she swapped an oppressive home life for the bohemian music halls of Rio at the age of eighteen.

Though Gonzaga had performed her first song, “Canção de Pastores,” at a family gathering on Christmas Eve in 1858, her first successful composition, a polka titled “Atraente,” was not published until 1877 In the meantime cut off by her family she managed to build a reputation as a piano teacher and made a living playing in ...

Article

Richard Hauer Costa

playwright and actor-director, was born Charles Edward Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming. His stepfather was William Gordon. The boy never knew his biological father and often referred to himself as “part Indian, part Irish, part French, and part Nigger.” With the birth of Charles, the family moved to his mother's hometown, Elkhart, Indiana, where the young Gordon went to school. Shirley Gordon Jackson, the older of his two sisters, recalled that the family then moved out of the “colored” part of town and crossed the railroad tracks to the white side of Elkhart's “Mason-Dixon line.” All of Gordon's school friends were white. He was a straight-A student, “doing everything right,” winning honors in dramatics, music, writing, and debate. He also received sixteen letters in sports and set a school record in the high jump.

Gordon explained that he ...

Article

Richard Hauer Costa

Gordone, Charles (12 October 1925–16 November 1995), playwright and actor-director was born Charles Edward Fleming in Cleveland Ohio the son of Charles Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming His stepfather was William Gordon The boy never knew his biological father and often referred to himself as part Indian part Irish part French and part Nigger With the birth of Charles the family moved to the mother s hometown Elkhart Indiana where young Charles went to school Shirley Gordon Jackson the older of his two sisters recalled that the family then moved out of the colored part of town and crossed the railroad tracks to the white side of Elkhart s Mason Dixon line All of Charles s school friends were white He was a straight A student doing everything right winning honors in dramatics music writing and debate He also received sixteen letters in sports and set a ...

Article

Dorsía Smith Silva

playwright and actor. Charles Edward Fleming was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 12 October 1925 to William Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming. He changed his name to Charles Gordon when his mother married William Lee Gordon in 1930. Gordone later added an “e” to “Gordon” for artistic reasons.

After completing high school, Gordone went to the University of California at Los Angeles. Seeking adventure, he left college after one semester to join the U.S. Air Force. Gordone received the rank of second lieutenant but left the military to live in Indiana and marry Juanita Burton. They had two children, but the marriage dissolved because of Gordone's alcoholism. Gordone moved to Los Angeles in 1945 and entered Los Angeles City College. He graduated with a BA in drama in 1952 and moved to New York to work as an actor.

In 1953 Gordone received an Obie Award ...

Article

Rachel Westley

playwright and director, author, and educator, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, to Thelma Inez Harrison and Paul Randolph Harrison. Although he was reared in the North and nurtured by the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, his roots are from below the Mason-Dixon Line, in North and South Carolina.

In the South the Harrison family was strongly immersed in Gullah culture and Marcus Garvey s Back to Africa movement Harrison s grandfather in fact was a major leader of and played an active role in the Garvey movement in North Carolina The household was also greatly involved in the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in the Carolinas and much of the mystical curiosity in Harrison s work can be attributed to his grandmother s spiritual influence He was embraced by this richness as a young man and it created the resonating aura of self ...

Article

Kofi Natambu

actor, musician, and theater director, was born in New York City the only child of Cyril Gordon Heath, an immigrant from Barbados, and Hattie Hooper. At age six Gordon enrolled in the Ethical Culture Society school in Manhattan, a well-known private and progressive educational institution. His musical education began at age eight when an aunt gave him violin lessons. Although he studied other instruments, he was most drawn to the guitar. In high school Gordon won prizes in both art and music and began performing in amateur theater groups, earning first place in a municipal drama competition. After his high school graduation he earned scholarships to two music schools and briefly attended the Dalcroze Institute before deciding to pursue an acting career instead.

When he joined New York radio station WMCA in 1945 Heath became the first black staff announcer at a major radio ...

Article

Meron Langsner

actor, director, and educator, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Elihue Henderson and Naomi Johnson. His father was employed at various jobs, one of which was making ice cream for the DeCorcey company of Kansas City, Kansas, after military service during the Korean conflict left him partially disabled. His mother was a hairstylist for a funeral home, a nightclub waitress, and finally a receptionist for Swope Park Community Medical Center.

Henderson attended school in Kansas City, Kansas, prior to integration. After graduating from Sumner High School in 1967, he briefly attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, a historically black institution founded by the Black Cavalry. After a year as a member of Lincoln's resident stage ensemble, the Stagecrafters, Henderson moved to New York City and joined the Juilliard Drama Division, where John Houseman, Michel and Suria Saint Denis and other distinguished ...

Article

Melissa Vickery-Bareford

theatrical director and playwright, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of John Hill and Minnie (maiden name unknown). His father, a fireman on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, participated in salary protests that forced him to leave the railroad after World War I; he then became a housepainter.

Abram appeared at the Morehouse College Chapel at the age of seven but did not pursue an interest in the stage. At the age of fourteen he fell ill with a severe case of pneumonia and spent two months in a hospital. The experience inspired him to become a surgeon, and in 1925 the Hill family moved to New York City to provide Abram with more educational opportunities. He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1929 Hill then spent three years working at Macy s department store as an elevator operator while ...

Article

Edward T. Washington

scholar, theater historian, editor, playwright, and director, was born Errol Gaston Hill in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of Thomas David and Lydia (Gibson) Hill. Hill's father lived away from the family throughout the boy's childhood, but his mother, a singer and actress in the local Methodist Church, strongly influenced him to pursue a theatrical career. Hill's involvement with drama took a major step forward in the mid-1940s when he co-founded, with the international actor Errol John and others a local amateur theater group called the Whitehall Players While writing acting and directing in that group Hill developed an interest in Trinidadian carnival and steel band music By the early 1950s with the assistance and support of the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Council Hill was among the first Trinidadians to air steel band music on the radio Given the worldwide popularity of ...

Article

Elton C. Fax

Ernest Hogan was born Reuben Crowders in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but some facts of his parentage, exact date of birth, and early life are confused and sparse. It is known, however, that this exceptionally talented and versatile man began his career as a comic singer and dancer in the popular medicine shows of his youth. It is believed that he took the name Hogan from one of those nomadic vendors of patent medicine for whom he had worked. Hogan was in his mid-twenties when he arrived in New York City around 1885. Minstrelsy was in vogue and Hogan s medicine show experience had equipped him well to fill the requirements of the medium At the same time the resourceful young Hogan recognized the limitations of the minstrel show and the caricature of black life he thought it projected He entertained opposing ideas One of them was to ...