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Brenna Sanchez

classical singer, author, gay rights activist, and former literary assistant to writer Langston Hughes, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Abdul's father, Hamid Abdul, was from Calcutta, India, and his mother, Bernice (Shreve) Abdul, was able to trace her ancestry back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. Abdul got his start in theater at a young age, participating in children's theater by age six. He attended John Hay High School and, after graduation, worked as a journalist for the Cleveland Call and Post. He would later go on to earn a diploma from the Vienna Academy of Music in 1962. He also studied at Harvard University, the New School for Social Research, the Cleveland Institute of Music, New York College of Music, and the Mannes College of Music.

In 1951 at age twenty two Abdul relocated to New York City There he began studying music and was ...

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Evan Mwangi

Algerian writer and singer who brought Kabyle folk music of the rural Berber community to international audiences and one of the earliest modern Algerian female novelists, was born Marie-Louise Amrouche in Tunisia to a family of Roman Catholic converts who had fled Algeria to escape persecution. Her mother, Fadhma Amrouche, also a writer and musician, was an early influence. Amrouche adopted the nom de plume Marguerite Taos to underscore the influence of her mother; Marguerite was her mother’s Christian name, which the latter was not allowed to use by the Catholic Church, ostensibly because she had not been baptized properly.

Despite her exile, the family returned to Algeria on prolonged visits, from which Amrouche and her brother Jean Amrouche, a poet, got acquainted with the oral literature of their native Kabyle Berber people. Amrouche obtained her brevet supérieur in Tunis in 1934 and went to France the following year ...

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George P. Weick

writer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi, the son of William S. Attaway, a medical doctor, and Florence Parry, a teacher. His family moved to Chicago when Attaway was six years old, following the arc of the Great Migration, that thirty‐year period beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century during which more than 2 million African Americans left the South for the burgeoning industrial centers of the North. Unlike many of these emigrants, who traded the field for the factory and the sharecropper's shack for the ghetto, the Attaways were professionals at the outset, with high ambitions for themselves and their children in their new homeland.

Attaway attended public schools in Chicago, showing no great interest in his studies until, as a high school student, he encountered the work of Langston Hughes He became from that point on a more serious student and even tried his hand ...

Article

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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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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Justin David Gifford

pimp-turned-novelist, autobiographer, essayist, and central figure of the black crime fiction movement that began in the 1960s, was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Robert Lee Maupin Jr., the only child of Mary Brown, a hairdresser, and Robert Maupin Sr., a hustler and one-time cook for Chicago mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson. In 1919, the year of the bloodiest race riots in Chicago's history, Robert Maupin Sr. tossed his infant son against a wall and abandoned the family. Beck survived, and Mary Brown supported her infant son by working as a door-to-door hairstylist. In 1924 she met Henry Upshaw the owner of a cleaning and pressing shop the only black business in Rockford Illinois Remembered by Beck as the only father I had ever really known Iceberg Slim 23 Upshaw provided Beck and his mother with a relatively stable middle class life However ...

Article

Shannon Oxley

Congolese (Brazzaville) novelist, politician, musician, and journalist, was born in Simiti, the regional capital of Lekoumou, Congo, on 17 February 1934. Bemba had a wife named Yvonne, and together they had a son, Richard (date of birth unknown). Little else is known about his personal life.

Bemba lived in Brazzaville for most of his life, where he worked as a journalist for La Semaine Africaine (African Week), a weekly newspaper, for over thirty years. Bemba’s contributions for La Semaine Africaine span the period from 1964 to 1995 He also began writing fiction in the form of short stories many of which gained national exposure for their portrayals of average Congolese women and men Bemba wrote in the French language and his work has won numerous awards including his acclaimed short story Le chambre noir 1963 The Black Room which was named Best New Literature by the literary magazine ...

Article

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

Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...

Article

Ann McCarthy

novelist, playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, folklorist, and educator, was born in Bolton, North Carolina, to Dorothy and Cecil Culphert Brown. His father was in prison until Brown was thirteen, so he and his brother Donald Ray were raised until then by his Uncle Lofton, who recognized and nurtured young Cecil's talent for academics and his facility with words. Brown describes this part of his life as a kind of idyll haunted by the mysterious but terrible situation of his father.

When he was fourteen years old Brown reluctantly moved with his brother and father to Green Swamp, North Carolina, to grow tobacco. Considerably less supportive of Cecil's bookishness, Culphert Brown beat him for reading when he should have been plowing It was around this time that Brown first encountered the Stagger Lee story which would be the focus of much of his scholarly research Friends of his father would ...

Article

Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...

Article

Christopher Paul Moore

writer, was born in La Grange, Texas, the son of James Browne, a farmer and carpenter, and Mary Elizabeth Dowell Browne. He attended public schools and entered the first class at Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas, in 1900. Established by the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, this all-black college was where Browne developed an early interest in teaching, civil and human rights, and religion.

As a student leader, Browne served as Texas representative to the Young People's Religious and Educational Congress in Atlanta in 1902 and campaigned to repeal the poll tax amendment to the Texas state constitution in 1903. After graduation he was elected vice president of the Texas State Teachers Association and taught at schools in Austin and Fort Worth over the next decade.

In 1904 Browne married Mylie De Pre Adams of Corsicana Texas with whom he had ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Thomas Aiello

journalist and jazz musician, was born Daniel Gardner Burley in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of James Burley, a former slave and Baptist minister, and Anna Seymour Burley, an educator who served under Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute. His father died when he was five years old, and in 1917 his mother, then remarried, moved the family to Chicago. Accounts differ as to whether Burley graduated from Wendell Phillips High School, but he attended, and his experience there cultivated a talent for writing, and his extracurricular activity taught him the jazz piano.

Burley began writing for the Chicago Defender between 1925 and 1928, according to some accounts while he was still attending high school. After leaving the weekly newspaper, Burley traveled the country, making his living through odd jobs and piano playing before returning to write for the Chicago Bee in 1932 He acted as ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Domingos Caldas Barbosa was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to a white father, Antonio de Caldas Barbosa, and a black mother, whose identity remains unknown. From an early age Caldas received a Jesuit education. He showed a predilection for poetry and musical composition.

While still a young man Caldas was drafted into the military and sent to serve in the Portuguese colony of Sacramento on the Rio de la Plata. Subsequently, Caldas obtained his discharge, returned home to Brazil, and then boarded a ship bound for Portugal. He arrived in Lisbon in 1763 and shortly thereafter enrolled at the University of Coimbra. It is unclear at what point Caldas's university studies were discontinued, but author Jane M. Malinoff asserts that the young poet took leave shortly after learning of his father s death Unable to independently support the cost of his education Caldas recalled ...

Article

Adam Rosen

subject of popular civil rights ballad by the renowned American folksinger Bob Dylan, lived her adult life, and possibly childhood, in Baltimore, Maryland. The sensationalist circumstances surrounding Carroll's death, which occurred eight hours after being assaulted by a wealthy white farmer at the hotel where she was working, coupled with the short sentence given to Carroll's victimizer, sparked a national outcry over the treatment of blacks in the United States. Within months of the verdict, Bob Dylan—at the time a relatively unknown twenty-two-year-old—wrote the song “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a haunting elegy that would memorialize the incident, although with considerable inaccuracy. Little information is available on Carroll's early life, but at the time of her death she was a resident of Cherry Hill, the United States' first planned neighborhood for African Americans and a major residence for returning black World War II veterans. Carroll's husband, James ...

Article

Lucilda Hunter

poet, dramatist, musician, artist, was born prematurely on 11 May 1904 in Axim in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Her father was Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford, a journalist, educator, and Pan-African activist of Fante origin, and her mother was his second wife, Adelaide Smith Casely-Hayford, a Sierra Leonean–born feminist, writer, and educator.

Gladys Casely-Hayford spent the first five years of her life between the Gold Coast and England. Her mother first took her there in 1906 to consult a specialist about a congenital hip defect that had made her left leg weak and misaligned, creating mobility problems. A second visit to England was for her mother’s own health and family reasons. Both visits lasted for months and might have contributed to the failure of her parents’ marriage, which ended with a legal separation agreement in 1914 Gladys went to Freetown when her mother returned to Sierra Leone and attended the ...

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Devora Fogelman

was born Alverta Elise La Pallo in New York City to Bernando La Pallo, a chef and later an author, and Ida Roberta (Small) La Pallo, who worked at Saks Fifth Avenue as a marker of prices, as well as at a small company that made diaper bags. Lee had one younger sister, Nandra.

Chamberlin attended Our Lady of Lourdes elementary school in Harlem and Cathedral High School in midtown Manhattan The year of her graduation is unknown At the age of seventeen she won a play writing contest through the New York Chapter of the American Cancer Society The year is unknown when she began her studies at Washington Square College of New York University where she was a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority and participated in an exchange program at the Sorbonne in Paris France The year of her graduation is unknown After completing college with ...

Article

Andre D. Vann

singer, writer, and socialite, was born Maria Hawkins in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Mingo Hawkins, was a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, which at the time was considered a prestigious position for an African American; her mother, Carol Saunders, was from Bermuda. Maria was born the second of three daughters, and when she was only two years old her mother died while giving birth to her youngest sister, Carol. Immediately all three girls were sent to live with their father's sister, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who was the founder and president of the Palmer Memorial Institute, the nation's most distinguished finishing school for blacks. There Cole was exposed to the likes of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McCleod Bethune, and even Eleanor Roosevelt, among other noteworthy guests.

As a student at the Palmer Memorial Institute Cole ...

Article

Born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Jayne Cortez grew up in south-central Los Angeles, California. She married African American saxophonist Ornette Coleman in 1954 and had a son. After their separation in 1960, Cortez wrote poetry and began studying drama. She spent the summers of 1963 and 1964 in Mississippi, where she helped register voters as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) campaign.

Upon her return to Los Angeles, Cortez cofounded the Watts Repertory Theater Company and served as its artistic director from 1964 to 1970. She published her first collection of poetry, Pisstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares, in 1969, followed by Festivals and Funerals in 1971. After moving to New York, Cortez formed Bola Press in 1972. Three years later, she married African American sculptor Melvin Edwards. From 1977 to 1983 she served as writer in ...