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Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

Article

Patrick O'Connor

Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921.

Josephine Baker like many other African ...

Article

Asli Tekinay

singer and dancer. Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in a poor black neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, was twenty-one years old at the time and worked as a laundry woman. Her father, Eddie Carson a vaudeville drummer left his wife a year after Josephine was born Josephine thus grew up fatherless and in poverty When she was eight years old her mother hired her out to a white woman as a maid From then on Josephine was on her own in life An ambitious and optimistic child she learned to dance in the back streets of Saint Louis She went to the zoo watched kangaroos camels and giraffes and imitated their movements She wanted to be a great dancer and live a glamorous life At the age of twelve she dropped out of school and at thirteen her professional life began ...

Article

Princess Mhoon Cooper

dancer, choreographer, artistic director, educator, and activist, was born in Effingham, South Carolina, the eldest of three daughters of Jack Cummings and Carrie Cummings sharecroppers who grew tobacco and cotton When Blondell was a year old the Cummingses like many African American families of the mid twentieth century migrated to the North While both her parents had relatives who previously moved to New York it was Jack who followed two of his four church singing brothers to the city to pursue careers in the commercial music industry Upon the family s arrival in Harlem Jack found work as a taxi driver and Carrie earned a living as a domestic and later completed school to become a health care professional Cummings described her upbringing as very strict and typical of most black families Her mother was the disciplinarian and while her father was not an authoritarian together they ran a ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

dancer, anthropologist, and activist. Katherine Dunham, born in Joliet, Illinois, was an innovator in dance. She was the Queen Mother of Black Dance, basing her understanding of dance and her innovations in it on anthropological principles and fieldwork in Haiti. Her father, an African American dry cleaner, owned his own business. Her mother was French Canadian and American Indian. Dunham began her dance training in her late teens.

Dunham majored in social anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she earned her BA in 1936. The ideas of the anthropologists Melville Herskovits and Robert Redfield inspired her work in dance, and she applied these ideas to her work with young children in her dance company, Ballet Nègre, which she started in 1931. Her combination of dance and anthropology earned her a Rosenwald Travel Fellowship in 1936 Dunham traveled to the West Indies combining her ...

Article

Pamela Blackmon

dancer, was born in Summit, New Jersey. The names of her mother and father are not known. An only child of poor but supportive parents, Guy developed an early interest in dance which extended to a love of reading and writing poetry. Guy loved to fantasize and no doubt dreamed of becoming a famous dancer. One of her early idols was Ruth St. Denis, an early pioneer of modern dance. St. Denis and her husband, Ted Shawn, formed the Denishawn School, which had offices in both Los Angeles and New York City.

A note sent by Guy to St. Denis during a concert intermission prompted a meeting between the two after the performance, launching a friendship that spanned several years. The note became the first of many exchanged between the two from 1923 to 1940 even after they began to work together Given Guy s fascination ...

Article

Jay Straker

Guinean choreographer and statesman, was born in the Maninka (Malinké) town of Siguiri in northeastern French Guinea (today’s Republic of Guinea) in 1921. His father was an educated merchant. His mother was of the Diabaté jeli (or griot, praise singer) lineage. Acquainted with reputable local artists from an early age, including a griot that performed at the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, Keita quickly excelled in both music and French schooling, learning the banjo and gaining entry into colonial Guinea’s most prestigious school—the École Primaire Supérieure located in the capital city of Conakry. While earning high academic marks in Conakry (1937–1940), Keita also led a band whose songs incorporated diverse global influences. This youthful demonstration of leadership and comprehensive artistic vision foretold of Keita’s eventual career as one of Africa’s greatest, most influential choreographers.

Like many of the brightest young men who came of age in French West Africa over ...

Article

Kaavonia Hinton

author, dancer, and activist, was born Carlene Hatcher in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Lillian Cook and John Hatcher, international representatives of the United Automobile Workers-Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO). By age twelve she was already exhibiting an interest in creative writing, completing several poems while attending public schools in Detroit. After her high school graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, a coeducational liberal arts school outside New York City.

While attending Sarah Lawrence she decided to pursue dance at the prestigious Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, one of the nation's oldest dance schools. From 1955 to 1963 Polite enjoyed a career as a professional dancer, appearing on stage with the Concert Dance Theatre of New York City from 1955 to 1959, the Vanguard Playhouse in Detroit from 1960 to 1962 and as a dancer and organizer at the Equity Theater in Detroit ...

Article

Ronna C. Johnson

Carlene Hatcher Polite is among the important artists to emerge from the “second renaissance” of African American culture in the 1960s and 1970s. The author of two experimental novels, The Flagellants (1966) and Sister X and the Victims of Foul Play (1975), Polite forged a unique prose style that helped establish innovative modes popularized by later writers. In addition to writing, her widespread career included professional dance training, performance, and instruction; political organizing; civil rights activism; and academic appointments. Born in Detroit to John and Lillian (Cook) Hatcher, international representatives of UAW-CIO, Polite attended Sarah Lawrence College and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. From 1955 to 1963, she pursued a career as a professional dancer. Polite performed with the Concert Dance Theater of New York City (1955–1959) and the Detroit Equity Theatre and Vanguard Playhouse (1960–1962 and taught ...

Article

Melinda Bond Shreve

performer, entrepreneur, and cultural leader, was born in east St. Louis, Illinois, to Fred L. and Lila B. Teer. Teer has been recognized for her exceptional talent as a dancer and actress, and most notably for founding the National Black Theatre, located in Harlem, New York, on historic 125th Street.

Teer was born into a family that was well known as both educators and community leaders. Her parents provided a nurturing home environment for her and her older sister Fredrica and they both went on to excel.

Teer graduated from Lincoln High School at age fifteen. She studied at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, Connecticut College, and the University of Wisconsin. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Dance Education in 1957 from the University of Illinois at age nineteen.After graduating Teer studied dance with Mary Wigman in Berlin and ...