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Article

Malaika B. Horne

activist, lawyer, politician, talk show host, and actor. Willie Lewis Brown Jr. was born in the East Texas town of Mineola to Minnie Collins Boyd and Willie Lewis Brown Sr. during the grinding poverty of the Great Depression. His grandmother Anna Lee Collins primarily raised Brown, his brother, and his three sisters. Racial oppression and extreme violence created even greater dangers and hardships for Brown's family as for many black families during the era. Affectionately called “Brookie” during his childhood, Brown performed such menial labor as picking cotton and shining shoes, yet his family's ingenuity helped overcome much of the abject poverty that most experienced. His enterprising family, including bootleggers and gamblers, greatly influenced him, particularly his strong people skills.

As a teenager Brown was gregarious and outspoken His grandmother feared for his life so hostile were whites to any kind of black self assertion ...

Article

Elton C. Fax

John W(alcott) Cooper was a native of Brooklyn, New York. Little is known of his parents except that his father, John Cooper, came from Beaufort, South Carolina, and his mother, Annie, from Georgia. Both died while their son was still a small boy. The child received his formal schooling at Professor Dorsey's Institute in downtown Brooklyn. Because of his small stature, young Cooper became an exercise boy at the nearby Sheepshead Bay racetrack. There his attention was drawn to ventriloquism by a white practitioner who liked to visit the stables. The ventriloquist, hoping to frighten the exercise boy into believing the horses “talked,” would slyly practice his craft around the animals' stalls. But young Cooper, wise to the pranks of track regulars, listened with no fear and with more than casual amusement.

With his keen intelligence good singing voice and a flair for showmanship Cooper soon joined a ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to John W. Cooper Sr. and Annie Morris. Cooper's parents died when he was still a child, and at the age of thirteen he began to care for himself by working as an exercise boy at the stables of the Sheepshead Bay Race Track in New York City. At the age of fifteen Cooper began singing tenor with a troupe called the Southern Jubilee Singers. After seeing performances by two white vaudeville ventriloquists, Harry Bryant and Al O. Duncan, Cooper became interested in the art of ventriloquism. While continuing to perform with the Southern Jubilee Singers, he began to focus his attention on becoming a professional ventriloquist. His first documented ventriloquist performance was with the Southern Jubilee Singers in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1894 He was twenty three years old As he toured with the singers his ventriloquist act was incorporated ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

singer, dancer, ventriloquist, and junk merchant, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, on the eve of the Civil War. To date, questions remain about Harmon's real name, parents, siblings, if any, and childhood. In addition, there appears to be no documentation about his years as a performer. The available information indicates that he worked in show business as a singer, dancer, and ventriloquist. Essentially, he was a well-rounded entertainer who had many talents and a knack for the stage. Harmon was married and had two children; however, the names of his wife and children are not readily available. When Harmon was around 38 and 39, his wife and children died from influenza in 1898–1899, during the Spanish American War. Harmon then moved to Harlem and lived in a two-room apartment.

Around 1910 Harmon having left the stage began a new career with a small cart and a ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist and magician, was born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the son of Dinah Swain (often called Black Dinah), a slave. Potter's mother was kidnapped by Dutch slave traders during her childhood, sold at an auction, and taken to Boston as a slave by Sir Charles Henry Frankland, a tax collector for the Port of Boston. She had five children while serving in Frankland's household. The identity of Potter's biological father remains a mystery. According to speculation, Potter's father was Frankland. Early church records indicate that Potter's father was a white man by the name of George Simpson. The origin of Potter's name is another mystery.

Potter spent his early years on the Frankland estate in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. At the age of ten, in 1793 he took work on a ship as a cabin boy His travels took him to England where he came across a Scottish ...

Article

magician, ventriloquist, and entrepreneur, was born in Amherst, Virginia, one of eight children of Peticus Rucker, a farm laborer, and Louise A. Rucker, a cook. In his teens Rucker worked as a cook and then as a contractor building houses. When Harry Kellar (“Kellar the Great”), one of the foremost magicians of his time, came through the area on tour, Rucker performed some handyman tasks for him and became his assistant.

Rucker studied stage magic under Kellar and eventually began performing on his own, taking the stage name “Black Herman.” This pseudonym linked him with earlier black magicians, such as Prince Herman, a traveling medicine show magician, whom Rucker also claimed as a mentor, and James A. Willis and Alonzo Moore whose stage names included Herman in some combination or else billed themselves as the black Hermann or the black Herman implying that ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist known best as the human member of the duo Richard and Willie, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Richard Sandfield Sr. and Janie Massey. Sandfield Jr. lived in Memphis until he was seventeen years old, when he joined the United States Air Force. He served in a medical unit as a clerk typist. At the age of twenty, Sandfield was discharged from the Air Force in Los Angeles, California. Unwilling to return to the racist atmosphere and lack of economic opportunities he had known in Tennessee, he chose to stay in Los Angeles.

His early years in Los Angeles were tough He arrived there with only two pairs of pants and $100 which he used to rent a room in the area of the city known as Skid Row Sandfield recalled that he ate only a can of soup a day until he obtained a job He found ...

Article

Shanteé Woodards

ventriloquist, radio personality, and emcee, was the oldest child born to Bertha and Arthur Takeall in Annapolis, Maryland. His father worked at the Navy Experimental Station, and his mother was a homemaker and community activist. Takeall was a sickly child who stuttered and developed rheumatic fever in the seventh grade. To regain strength from his illness, he ran track at Wiley H. Bates High School, the area's all-black school. He also learned ventriloquism to cope with his stutter. Takeall continued to participate in a variety of sports throughout his life and learned karate from U.S. Marine Corps gunning sergeant Howard George. By the time he was seventeen, Takeall had a black belt and gave lessons to others at the nearby white school, Annapolis High School, in 1964 He also held a variety of jobs including one as a cashier at Dairy Queen which was an ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist partnered by Lester, was born Willie Tyler in River Falls, Alabama, one of ten children (three sisters and six brothers) of James Otis Tyler and Georgia Tyler. His father worked at a Ford Motor Company plant just outside of Detroit. His mother stayed home to raise the children. Seeking better economic opportunities, the family moved to Detroit, Michigan, while Tyler was young. He grew up in on Adelaide Street around the city's Hastings Street neighborhood.

Tyler became interested in ventriloquism at the age of ten when he saw an advertisement for the Maher Home Study Ventriloquism Course on the back of a magazine With the help of a teacher he signed up for ventriloquism lessons Between delivering newspapers Tyler began performing at clubs variety shows and talent contests in Detroit Michigan At the age of thirteen a teacher helped Tyler purchase his first ventriloquist dummy out of a ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the only child of Alonzo Williams and Laura Powell, a live-in maid. As a small boy, Williams moved to Dayton, Ohio, with his grandmother, whom he thought of as his mother. Williams's mother eventually joined her family in Dayton.

Williams's mother died when he was eight, and he went to live with his Aunt Ola Mae and his Uncle James Jackson in Dayton. He attended Dunbar High School, where he was a high jumper and ran the half mile as a member of Dunbar's 1948 Ohio state track championship team. After he graduated in 1951 he worked at a local bowling alley, as he had done throughout his high school years. Later he took a job at Chevrolet parking cars. In 1952, at the age of twenty, Williams met Ernestine Hatcher The couple married the same year they had two ...