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Mark Clague and John H. Zimmerman

flutist, composer, bandmaster, music educator, journalist, and hotelier, was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies (later U.S. Virgin Islands) and is remembered as the U.S. Navy's first African American bandmaster. Adams was the son of Jacob Henry Adams, a carpenter, and Petrina Evangeline Dinzey, a tailor; both his parents were members of the black artisan class centered around St. Thomas's port. This culture celebrated music and literature and instilled the young Adams with values of hard work and self-education. Although professional musicians were unknown in the Virgin Islands in his youth, Adams dreamt of a musical career inspired by his deeply held belief that music was not just entertainment, but vital to community health.

Adams attended elementary school and apprenticed as a carpenter and then a shoemaker choosing his trade based on the musical abilities of his master ...

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John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

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Constance Valis Hill

tap dancer and entrepreneur, was born Clayton Bates in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, the son of Rufus Bates, a laborer, and Emma Stewart a sharecropper and housecleaner He began dancing when he was five At age twelve while working in a cotton seed gin mill he caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt The leg was amputated on the kitchen table at his home Although he was left with only one leg and a wooden peg leg that his uncle carved for him Bates resolved to continue dancing It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two legged dancer he recalled It hurt me that the boys pitied me I was pretty popular before and I still wanted to be popular I told them not to feel sorry for me He meant it He began ...

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John Harris-Behling

disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.

Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...

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Linda Spencer

educator and community activist, was born Uvelia Atkins in Middlesex County, Virginia. She attended public elementary schools in Middlesex County, and in 1940 she graduated from the Rappahannock Industrial Academy, a private high school in Essex County. Atkins graduated in 1945 from Virginia Union University, in Richmond, where she majored in English and was vice president of the YWCA, secretary of Kappa Gamma Chi, and a member of the NAACP. She married the Reverend Walter Duncan Bowen, a Presbyterian pastor, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1954. The couple did not have any children, and throughout their lives they worked with inner‐city young people. She received a master of social service degree from Bryn Mawr College in 1957.

From 1951 to 1965 Bowen worked in Philadelphia for the United Neighbors Association a multi program agency that provided services to city residents she was the association s first woman ...

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Charles Rosenberg

the “Jay” in Vee‐Jay records, was born James Conrad Bracken in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the youngest son of Junious and Eva Bracken, born respectively in Tennessee and Florida. His older brothers, Herbert and Earnest, were also born in Oklahoma. Before 1920, the family moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where Junious Bracken worked as a porter and owned the family home.

Little has been documented about Bracken's childhood or early adult years. He may have attended Western University in Quindaro, Kansas. The Detroit Singers recalled that he had once worked as a parking lot attendant at the Harlem Inn in Detroit. For a time he made a living selling pots and pans, and was employed by the U.S. Signal Corporation. In 1948 Bracken entered into a partnership with radio WGRY disc jockey Vivian Carter, opening Vivian's Record Shop at 1640 Broadway, in Gary, Indiana.

In 1953 Bracken and Carter ...

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Barry Kernfeld

blues and vaudeville songwriter, publisher, and musical director, was born John Henry Perry Bradford in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Adam Bradford, a bricklayer and tile setter, and Bella (maiden name unknown), a cook. Standard reference books give his year of birth as 1893, but Bradford's autobiography gives 1895. Early in his youth Bradford learned to play piano by ear. In 1901 his family moved to Atlanta, where his mother cooked meals for prisoners in the adjacent Fulton Street jail. There he was exposed to the inmates' blues and folk singing. Bradford attended Molly Pope School through the sixth grade and claimed to have attended Atlanta University for three years, there being no local high school. This is chronologically inconsistent, however, with his claim to have joined Allen's New Orleans Minstrels in the fall of 1907 traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras ...

Article

Jim Haskins

entertainer and nightclub operator, was born in Alderson, West Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Smith, a barber, and Hattie E. (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia, because her parents did not wish to disappoint the various neighbors and friends who offered suggestions for naming her, Bricktop received her nickname because of her red hair when she was in her late twenties from Barron Wilkins, owner of a nightclub called Barron's Exclusive Club in Prohibition-era Harlem.

Bricktop's father died when she was four, and her mother moved with the children to Chicago to be near relatives. Hattie Smith worked as a domestic in Chicago, and her children attended school. Bricktop showed early musical talent and interest in performing. She made her stage debut as a preschooler, playing the part of Eliza's son Harry in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin at ...

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Linda M. Carter

singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger, was born John William Bristol in Morganton, North Carolina, the son of James and Mary Bristol. While in high school, Bristol was named to the All-State Football Team, and he formed a singing group known as the Jackets. After graduating from high school he enlisted in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Bristol and Robert “Jackey” Beavers formed part of the group the High Fives, though soon left to form the duo Johnny and Jackey. In 1959 Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis signed the two young men to their Anna Records label, and Johnny and Jackey recorded two 45s before Gordy and Harvey Fuqua established Tri-Phi Records in 1961 Johnny and Jackey recorded four 45s The duo s songs garnered a modicum of success in the Midwest but failed to ...

Article

The broadcast industry in the United States was born in the early 1920s as a result of the mass production of radios. It expanded significantly in the 1950s with the addition of television and has since become a constant presence in American life. From the birth of broadcasting, African Americans have played a vital part in the industry as performers, executives, and consumers.

In the 1920s recorded music found its first widespread audience through airplay on the earliest radio stations. Although jazz music, which was pioneered and usually performed by blacks, was popular at the time, angry whites quickly denounced what they considered to be the decadence and lewdness inherent in the music. As a result, black jazz musicians found themselves receiving less airplay than their white counterparts did—even though these counterparts often performed the same material. Still, African American musicians like Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, and Duke ...

Article

Antero Pietila

pioneering African‐American broadcasting and advertising executive, who became the country's first black woman to own a radio station and, later, a television channel. Her innovative “urban contemporary” format of crossover music, first introduced on New York City airwaves in the 1970s, was copied throughout the industry, broadening the appeal of black stations to interracial audiences.

She was born in rural Georgia, the oldest of five children. Raised in Harlem, New York, she attended public schools and graduated with a business and finance degree from the Empire College of the State University of New York. In 1962, she started as an assistant comptroller at WWRL radio in New York City at $70 a week. She showed ability and determination, eventually rising to the assistant general manager.

Looking for challenges, in 1969 she cofounded Howard Sanders Advertising in New York The following year she invested $10 000 in a new ...

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Shennette Garrett-Scott

the first woman to lead an otherwise all-male orchestra, was the older sister of the well-known bandleader Cab Calloway. Born in Rochester, New York, Blanche and her three younger siblings moved to Baltimore when she was a teenager. She grew up in a comfortably middle-class family; her father, Cabell, was a lawyer and her mother, Martha Eulalia Reed, taught music. Calloway's father died in 1910, and her mother married insurance salesman John Nelson Fortune a few years later and had two more children.

Calloway s mother likely instilled a love of music in all of her children Calloway s brother Elmer also briefly pursued a musical career Martha made sure that young Calloway took piano and voice lessons as a child but Martha never imagined music as a career for a proper young woman She expected that her daughter would pursue a respectable career as a nurse ...

Article

Ulrich Adelt

rap artist and entrepreneur, was born in Miami Beach, Florida. His father, Stanley Campbell, who emigrated from Jamaica, was a janitor, and his mother, Yvonne Campbell, worked as a beautician. Campbell grew up in the impoverished Liberty City area of Miami and had to share a bedroom with his four brothers. Although his family was relatively stable and able to send his three older brothers to college, Campbell had to learn to survive in a dangerous environment. In a gang-related incident in Campbell's neighborhood, for instance, a fourteen-year-old male shot to death his best friend in 1986. Campbell developed his entrepreneurial skills early on by selling ice cream and lemonade from his mother's kitchen to children from the neighborhood. He went to predominantly white schools on football scholarships and started disc-jockeying for school dances.

Before Campbell became a member of the rap group 2 Live Crew in ...

Article

Ingrid Schorr

curator, fashion designer, dancer, and artist, was born James Watson in rural Woodruff, South Carolina, to sharecropper parents whose names are unknown. Little information about his early years is available except that he attended the Fashion Institute of New York and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris before moving to New York in the 1960s.

As Chanticleer established himself as a fashion designer in New York City he also began to propagate the biographical embellishments and falsehoods that would be repeated until his death: that he was born in Harlem to a Barbadian concert pianist and a Haitian high school principal; that he completed a master's degree at the Sorbonne; that as a five-year-old he designed a prize-winning folding chair for a competition at the 1940 World's Fair.

Whether or not he grew up in Harlem Chanticleer identified so strongly with its place at the center of black history and ...

Article

Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz

Zydeco musician and quarter-horse trainer, was born into a farming community in Dog Hill near Lake Charles, Louisiana, one of seven children, to Marceline Pete and Arthur Chavis, tenant farmers and entrepreneurs who managed a few well-known local horse circuits, or unregulated “bush” horse races. As a young boy he was given the inexplicable nickname Boozoo, which would remain his moniker throughout the entirety of his life. The first instrument Chavis learned to play was the harmonica, but he mastered the button accordion by watching his father, uncles, and Henry Martin, all well-known local musicians in southwest Louisiana. Although his parents separated when he was three years old, he remained in contact with his father and frequently attended the local house dances in Rayne and Dog Hill, where both his father and his great uncle Sidney Babineaux frequently played. At the age of twenty-one he married Leona Predium ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

singer, songwriter, producer, and leader of Parliament-Funkadelic, was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the eldest of Julia Keaton's nine children. His father's name is unknown, but Clinton had moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, by the time he was a teenager. While straightening hair at a local barbershop, Clinton began singing doo-wop in the back room with a group called the Parliaments. Formed in 1955, they modeled themselves after the hit makers Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and they spent the next decade on the competitive R&B circuit. Although they recorded sparingly during this period, the group's repeated trips to Detroit helped Clinton establish himself as a producer and songwriter with the Motown Records subsidiary Jobete. In 1964 the Parliaments themselves signed with Motown, but it was for Revilot Records that the group scored an R&B hit in 1967 with the gospel-drenched “(I Wanna) Testify,” sung by Clinton.In the ...

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Lolita K. Buckner Inniss

aviator, dancer, and musician, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the fifth of seven children to Sarah Ragsdale and a father surnamed Jones. Official records such as census records from 1930 and the Social Security Death Index list her birth year as 1906, but family records, photographs, and anecdotal evidence indicate her birth year as between 1900 and 1903. After she was widowed Marie's mother left Muskogee for Los Angeles, California, along with Marie and some of her siblings, where they settled in a vibrant, multiracial neighborhood in East Los Angeles. When Marie's mother married David Austin, a former guitarist for the singer Sissieretta Jones (Black Patti) in 1910, Marie took her stepfather's surname, Austin.

Coker attended and graduated from Central High School in Los Angeles and was the first in her immediate family to attain a high school diploma She was a precocious child particularly ...

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Donna L. Halper

radio personality and advertising executive, was most likely the first black announcer in the history of broadcasting, on the air as early as 1924. His successful radio career would span four decades and make him a wealthy man. Cooper did not come from an entertainment background. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he was one of ten children of William and Lavina Cooper. Jack Cooper quit school after the fifth grade to help support his impoverished family. He held a number of low-paying jobs and for a time got interested in boxing, winning more than a hundred bouts as a welterweight fighter. But he found his calling on the vaudeville stage, where he became a singer and dancer, beginning in 1905 and continuing well into the 1920s. He was more than just a performer, writing and producing skits and entire shows, often in collaboration with his first wife Estelle ...

Article

Bill Egan

The Cotton Club opened in 1923 at 142d Street and Lenox Avenue, in the heart of New York City's Harlem. It was a lavishly refurbished version of the Club Deluxe previously run by the former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Ironically, although Johnson had pioneered the “black and tan” integrated clubs of Chicago's South Side in 1912, the Cotton Club was segregated from the beginning. The new owner was Owney Madden, a quiet but ruthless gang boss who controlled a major part of the illegal liquor trade. Madden kept a low profile, with his partner “Frenchy” De Mange as the front man.

The Cotton Club served as a respectable front for the mobster s illegal activities It attracted the cream of white society lured by the thrill of slumming uptown in Harlem where they could safely observe exotic black people without actually mixing with them In addition ...

Article

pianist, singer, and composer, was born Charles Edward Davenport in Anniston, Alabama, one of eight children of Queen Victoria Jacobs, a church organist, and Clement Davenport, a minister. He showed an interest in music early in childhood, teaching himself organ and briefly taking piano lessons at age twelve. At his father's urging he attended Alabama Theological Seminary (1910–1911) to train as a minister, but was later expelled for playing a march in ragtime style at a social event. Moving to Birmingham, he worked as a pianist at various venues including a club on Eighteenth Street. He then toured widely in towns in Alabama and Georgia. In 1917 he was discovered by the pianist Bob Davies and was invited to join his touring company the Barkroot Carnival Working for the carnival gave Davenport a valuable range of musical and theatrical experience including solo singing and playing ...