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Philip Herbert

Famous pianist in the United Kingdom during the 1950s, selling over 20 million records. She was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, in February 1914. She studied the piano as a child and had a local following. It was hoped that she would eventually work for the family business, after her training in pharmacy.

To gain further musical training, Atwell moved to the United States in 1945, and then came to London in 1946, to the Royal Academy of Music, to become a concert pianist. To sustain her studies, she performed piano rags at hotels, theatres, and clubs in London. By 1950 she had attained national celebrity, and signed to record with Decca. She recorded such hits as Let's Have a Ding‐Dong, Poor People of Paris, Britannia Rag, and many others. The Black and White Rag became the signature tune for the BBC's Pot Black ...

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Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...

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Jane Poyner

Orphan from Dahomey (now Benin) reputed to be of royal lineage, who was brought as a slave to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protégée. Sarah was named, ignominiously, after the ship Bonetta on which she was transported to England. Ironically, she was given to Captain Frederick Forbes by King Gezo of Dahomey in a conciliatory gesture following Forbes's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the King to give up trading in slaves. Forbes, in his account of his travels Dahomey and the Dahomens (1851), used Sarah as an example of the potential for progress in the intellect of the African at a time when pseudo‐scientific enlightenment theories of race were rampant: as Forbes noted, ‘it being generally and erroneously supposed that after a certain age the intellect [of the African] becomes impaired and the pursuit of knowledge impossible’.

Sarah was presented to Queen Victoria and thereafter raised under her ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Eric Bennett

The son of the first African American professor at Princeton University, Anthony Davis studied classical music as a child in New York and as an undergraduate at Yale University he played free-jazz with Anthony Braxton. After earning his B.A. at Yale in 1975, Davis moved to New York City, where he supported himself as a Jazz pianist. As Davis developed musically, his compositions deviated from traditional jazz. He often abandoned improvisation and drew elements from Western classical music and African and South Asian rhythms. His recordings from this period include Hidden Voices (1979) and Lady of the Mirrors (1981). In 1981 Davis formed an eight-piece ensemble, Episteme, whose repertoire included a combination of improvised and scored music, blurring the distinction between jazz and classical music.

In the 1980s Davis began focusing much of his work on historical subjects. Middle Passage (1984 ...

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crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

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Barry Kernfeld

clarinetist, was born Edmond Blainey Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana, son of Edward Blainey Hall, a plantation and railroad worker, and Caroline Duhé. His father had played clarinet with a brass band in Reserve, Louisiana. Edmond's four brothers all became professional musicians. His brother Herb Hall had a distinguished career in jazz.

Edmond taught himself to play guitar and then one of his father's clarinets. He worked occasionally with such New Orleans trumpeters and cornetists as Kid Thomas Valentine, Lee Collins, and Chris Kelly around 1919–1920. From 1921 to 1923, while with Buddy Petit's band in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast, he began playing alto saxophone as well. He traveled to Pensacola, Florida, with the trumpeter Mack Thomas then joined the pianist Eagle Eye Shields in Jacksonville in 1924 and brought the trumpeter Cootie Williams into the band. In 1926 ...

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Elaine Kemp Bragdon

musician, was born George Washington Kemp, the son of William and Angerline Moors Kemp, in Sperryville, Virginia. George and his siblings were born into slavery and would become the slaves of Major Armistead Brown and his son, Joseph, of Culpeper, Virginia. George and his family were fortunate to have had a kind master, but he decided to run away after hearing, like many others, of the freedom he could gain by escaping North.

He and seventeen other slaves ran away one night to enlist in the Union Army, under the command of General Oliver Otis Howard Mr Kemp soon became an aide to General Howard After earning the General s trust he was persuaded to come North and work at the Howard farm in Leeds Maine This was the beginning of a new life for him It was now fast approaching the end of the Civil War ...

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Timothy M. Broughton

slave and freeperson, storyteller, and community organizer, was born in what is now Benin, Africa. He was smuggled into Mobile, Alabama, aboard the schooner Clotilda in July 1860, over fifty years after the abolition of the North Atlantic slave trade in the United States. The Clotilda was the last known slave ship, and Lewis and the others were the last known Africans brought to America as slaves. Although Lewis's grandfather owned land, livestock, and a few slaves in Africa, his father Oluale and mother Nyfond-lo-loo lived humble lives. Nyfond-lo-loo was Oluale's second wife and Lewis their second child. Nyfond-lo-loo had five other children. Oluale also had nine by his first wife and three by his third wife.

As a young boy Lewis enjoyed playing with his siblings and playing the drums At the age of fourteen he began training to become a soldier learning how to ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

hip-hop performer, songwriter, and actor, was born James Todd Smith in New York City. Raised in the St. Albans district of Queens, Smith was the only child of James Smith Jr. and Ondrea Smith, whose turbulent, abusive relationship led to their split when Smith was four years old; the boy and his mother moved in with her parents. Unfortunately, the trouble did not end there: when Smith was four, James Smith Jr. shot his ex-wife in the back and legs as she returned to her parents' house after work, wounding her father in the attack as well. Though both survived, this escalation of violence in his family marked the young James Smith throughout his life, and—according to his 1998 autobiography he credited this early turmoil and a later unfortunate reprise when his mother became the victim of further abuse by a later boyfriend with helping ...

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Andrew Du Bois

Born James Todd Smith in Queens, New York, LL Cool J was raised in the Hollis neighborhood, an area that also produced the pioneering rappers who formed Run-DMC. He adopted the performing name LL Cool J—short for “Ladies Love Cool James”—and released Radio, his 1985 debut album, which sported such signature songs as “Rock the Bells” and “I Can't Live Without My Radio.” It sold more than one million copies. The kid in the sneakers, gold chains, and Kangol hat rapped over spare, programmed beats that were sometimes splashed with rock guitar. In an art form founded on cocky sparring, LL Cool J was the king of the boast. Fans admired him for his cherubic looks and smooth style as well as for his lyrical skills.

While Bigger and Deffer (1987 LL s second release contained one of the all time great battle raps I m ...

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John G. Turner

was born in Natchez, Mississippi to a mixed-race Pennsylvanian cabinetmaker and his slave. Upon his death, McCary’s father freed his mother and two siblings in his will, yet assigned McCary as a slave to two of his own siblings. Also known as Okah Tubbee and William Chubbee, he escaped slavery as a young man and took refuge in New Orleans, later heading north to St. Louis.

In 1846 McCary using the name William went to Nauvoo Illinois which the Mormons were at the time leaving under the threat of persecution from anti Mormon mobs Showcasing a penchant for assumed identities that characterized his subsequent exploits McCary presented himself as an Indian chief He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints and married a white Mormon woman named Lucy Stanton Bassett The couple soon left Nauvoo for Cincinnati Ohio where McCary gained prophetic influence over ...

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Cecily Jones

Conjoined African‐American twins who became successful performers. Born into slavery in North Carolina, Millie‐Christine, as the girls were known, were often referred to as one person, and, indeed, often referred to themselves as such. While still in their infancy they were stolen from their parents, sold three times, kidnapped, and displayed as curiosities at fairs and shows across America. Their ‘owner’, the showman J. P. Smith, first exhibited Millie‐Christine as a ‘freak of nature’ to an American public avid for glimpses of this biological phenomenon. At each new venue the girls were forcibly and humiliatingly stripped and examined by physicians to prove to sceptics that the ‘two‐headed girl’ was no fraud.

A rival show owner stole Millie Christine and for two years he too toured America exhibiting them Fearing that they were about to be recaptured from him their new owner fled with them to Britian where they were ...

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James M. Salem

entrepreneur and record label owner, was born Don Deadric Robey in Houston, Texas, the son of Zeb Robey and Gertrude (maiden name unknown). Little is known of his childhood. Don dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade, reportedly to become a professional gambler in Houston nightspots frequented by African Americans; later he was suspected of being involved in the city's numbers operation. He also entered the taxi business prior to World War II and established a business in entertainment promotion, bringing name bands and celebrity attractions into segregated sections of the Houston area.

Though Robey opened his first nightclub in 1937, it was the postwar Bronze Peacock Dinner Club, opened in 1946, that he parlayed into an interconnected set of entertainment and music businesses that made him, according to the Houston Informer one of the city s foremost black business wizards Robey s skill ...

Article

RuPaul  

Monica Hairston

drag performer, singer, songwriter, and actor, was born RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, California, the only son of four children to Ernestine “Toni” Fontenette (a registrar) and Irving Andrew Charles (an electrician). RuPaul was close to his sisters Renae, Renatta, and Rosalind, and to his mother, particularly after his parents' bitter 1967 divorce. Shortly afterward, RuPaul moved in with Renatta and her husband in El Cajon, California, and then moved with them to Atlanta in the summer of 1976 While there RuPaul worked with his brother in law as a used car salesman but also attended the Northside School of the Performing Arts RuPaul s experiences as a drama major at Northside as well as his exposure to the liberating and bohemian climate in Atlanta fueled his desire to succeed as a performing artist RuPaul experienced his first drag queen performance ...

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John K. Bollard and Cecil Brown

the archetypal “bad man” of song, toast, and legend, was born Lee Shelton somewhere in Texas. Shortly after Shelton murdered William “Billy” Lyons in 1895, blues songs began to appear recounting the event, giving rise to the figure of Stagolee. Little is known about Shelton's origins and childhood except the name of his father, Nat Shelton The date of his birth is known only from his prison death certificate The elegant style of his signature in his arrest records suggests that he had some schooling Although he became the mythical Stagolee a bad mother who shot somebody just to see him die Lee Shelton was of ordinary stature Prison records describe him as being five feet seven and one half inches tall His hair and eyes are described as black his complexion as mulatto Under the column marks and scars the authorities listed the following L eft eye ...

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Eleanor D. Branch

gospel singer, was born in Chicago, the daughter of Roebuck “Pops” Staples, who held a variety of blue collar jobs including work in construction and meatpacking, and Oceola Staples, at one point a laundry supervisor at a Chicago hotel. Born after her parents migrated to Chicago from Mississippi, Staples grew up in an environment marked by a strong sense of faith and family. She was a child in kindergarten when her parents discovered the power in her voice. That power was subsequently honed by her exposure to a wide variety of music including the blues and soul, but especially to gospel.As a youngster, Staples and her sister, Yvonne often spent part of the year in Mound Bayou Mississippi visiting their grandmother In this small town Mavis gained a deep appreciation for the link between music and spirituality Yet it wasn t until she was eight ...

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Diane Epstein

Mavis Staples spoke affectionately about her dad, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, as her first and major source of inspiration. Roebuck Staples moved to Chicago from Mississippi in 1935 with his wife, Oceola, their daughter, Cleotha, and son, Pervis. Three more children were born in Chicago, including Mavis in 1940. Chicago became home base for the family. It was not just music that tied the family together but their strong religious beliefs and their commitment to the church.

Staples had two other strong influences in her life. The person who affected her in her formative years was another extraordinary gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson Staples loved to tell the story of how they met and became longtime personal and professional friends Roebuck Staples introduced his daughter to Jackson s singing by way of her radio performances Staples was only about eight but she knew when she listened that this was ...

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Ben Penglase

At the end of the nineteenth century, just at the time of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro's Praça Onze was the center of a neighborhood composed largely of Afro-Brazilians. Many of these people were recent migrants from the state of Bahia, and the Praça Onze neighborhood became known as “Pequena África” (or small Africa). Tia Ciata moved to Rio from Bahia at the age of twenty-two, and during the day worked selling home-cooked food at a food stall. Tia Ciata was also deeply involved in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. At night and on the weekends she hosted gatherings at her home in Praça Onze that united some of the most famous black Brazilian musicians and composers, probably serving as one of the birthplaces of Samba music.

See also Afro-Brazilian Culture.