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Rob Fink

The first image of an African American in film occurred in 1903 with the silent movie Uncle Tom's Cabin. The twelve-minute-long movie, though, starred a white actor in blackface as the title character. For African American actors and actresses, the opportunity to appear in films, and subsequently in television and serious theater productions, took a while to develop. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the white actors who portrayed black characters, such as those who performed in D. W. Griffith'sThe Birth of a Nation in 1915, established several derogatory characters. Over the next century, black actors and actresses found themselves working against these stereotypes.

The practice of excluding African Americans from performing began during the post Civil War period and extended to all forms of acting In Wild West shows and circuses black actors and actresses were almost nonexistent The African Americans who appeared usually ...

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Baqi<ayn>e Bedawi Muhammad

pioneer Sudanese woman singer and activist during the struggle for Sudanese independence and the first woman to perform on the radio in Sudan. Born in 1905 in Kassala City in the eastern region of Sudan, Ahmad was the eldest among her seven siblings, including three brothers and four sisters. Among them was a sister Jidawiyya who played a crucial role with Ahmad in their journey as female musicians. Ahmad’s family was originally from Nigeria and migrated to Sudan in the late nineteenth century as pilgrims on their way to the holy places in Saudi Arabia. Her father, Musa Ahmad Yahiyya, was from the Fulani-Sokoto ethnic group, while her mother, Hujra, was from Hausa. Ahmad’s nickname is Aisha al-Falatiyyia, a reference to her father’s ethnic group, the Fulani, or Fallata, as they are known in Sudan.

The documented history indicates that Sudan served as a crossroads to the holy places in ...

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Miles M. Jackson

explorer and businessman, was born a slave in German Flats, New York. He was owned by the Dougal family and spent his youth in Schenectady. It is very likely his mother was a slave (New York did not abolish slavery until 1827); his father was a freeman and a mariner. Following the death of his master, he was purchased by another owner. After gaining his freedom in 1796, Allen arrived in Boston in 1800 and went to sea just as his father had done. Indeed, many African Americans living in Boston had ties to the maritime industry in some way. Like other black mariners, Allen faced the risk of reenslavement when he traveled to Southern ports. Once he was saved from imprisonment by one of the ship's owners, who paid $300 for his release.

Allen's years at sea between 1800 and 1810 provided him with unique experiences ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Academy Award–winning actor Sidney Poitier, actor and singer Harry Belafonte, and actor Ruby Dee are three of the prominent African American actors who were affiliated with the American Negro Theatre. The theater was founded in Harlem, New York, in 1940 by black writer Abram Hill and black actor Frederick O'Neal. They wanted to create a company that would provide opportunity for African American artists and entertainment for African American audiences. Such entertainment and opportunity was largely inaccessible to African Americans on Broadway in downtown New York City. Over the next nine years, an estimated 50,000 people attended American Negro Theatre productions.

Hill and O Neal felt that the mainstream professional theater provided only limited opportunity for African Americans and that it encouraged a star system under which actors constantly competed to be the one breakthrough hit Hill and O Neal were more interested in the potential ...

Article

On January 1, 1992, the two black-owned radio networks in the United States, the National Black Network and the Sheridan Broadcasting Network, merged to become the American Urban Radio Networks. The merger represented the culmination of the effort by African Americans to participate fully in radio broadcasting.

The history of African Americans in radio can be organized into three broad categories: blackface radio, from 1920 to 1941; black-appeal radio, from 1942 to 1969; and black-controlled radio, from 1970 to the present Blackface radio describes the period during which African Americans neither provided nor consumed radio based entertainment Only one in ten black households owned a radio and blacks were generally represented by white actors and musicians in the minstrel tradition an imitation of African American culture The black performers who worked in radio tended to be cast in stereotypical roles Black humor was widely imitated most ...

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Alonford James Robinson

The Sam ‘n’ Henry radio show, as it was first called, was created in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, by two white entertainers, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. The show portrayed its two African American characters in full racial stereotype, complete with broken English. In 1928 the characters were renamed Amos ‘n’ Andy and were crafted to reflect white stereotypes of African American life and culture in Harlem, New York, in the years immediately following the Great Migration, the mass movement of blacks from the South to the North in the early twentieth century. While Amos was portrayed as weak and submissive, Andy was lazy and pretentious. Together, they were bumbling fools. When the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) acquired the radio program in 1929, they became a national comic sensation.

Due to its great popularity the show was played on the radio in many of the country ...

Article

Frank E. Dobson

Amos ’n’ Andy, both the radio show and the television show that followed, is a name that conjures up racial stereotypes. Amos ’n’ Andy was one of the twentieth century's most popular and controversial comedy shows depicting black characters.

The show was the creation of two enterprising white actors and musicians, Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll. In 1925 Gosden and Correll debuted as musicians on WGN radio in Chicago. After discussions with station management regarding a new radio show, the pair suggested a blackface minstrel show in which they would play black characters. The original names of the characters were Sam and Henry; Sam ’n’ Henry debuted on 12 January 1926. The show used stereotypical representations of black speech and black urban life.

Sam ’n’ Henry ran on WGN for two years and was quite successful Some critics such as Mel Watkins suggest that the ...

Article

Maria Stilson

actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...

Article

George H. Douglas

radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family. His father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, a job that, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio.

Between 1923 and 1933 Anderson's older brother Cornelius had a career in vaudeville as a song and dance man, and Eddie, who had little formal education, joined him occasionally. With vaudeville dying, however, Eddie drifted toward Hollywood. In the depths of the Depression, pickings were slim. His first movie appearance was in 1932 in What Price Hollywood? For a few years he had only bit parts but then he secured a major role in ...

Article

The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.

Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

(now Suffolk), Virginia to Florence Avery. He was one of three children whom his mother raised on her own. When he was still very young, his family moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he spent most of his early life. After graduating high school in 1963, Avery enlisted in the Navy, serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

After leaving the military, he relocated to San Diego, California and began writing for PBS. He won an LA Area Emmy Award for a show he produced, Ameda Speaks: Poet James Avery. He received a scholarship from the University of California, San Diego, from which he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor s degree in Literature and Drama Writing was always what he aspired to do professionally but his rich voice and imposing physical presence opened the door to an acting career He performed in community plays ...

Article

Clinton Palmeri

actor and voice actor, was known for his role as Judge Philip Banks in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and for the voice of the antagonist Shredder in the TV series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Born in Pughsville near Hampton Roads, Virginia, and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Avery's early life still remains widely unknown. His mother was Florence J. Avery; in an interview with The History Makers, Avery claimed that his father denied paternity. Additionally, Avery recalled moving to Atlantic City with his mother and struggling in high school and college as an “underachiever.”

Avery joined the US Navy in 1968, during the Vietnam War, and served until 1972 participating in several covert operations in Cambodia and Laos and in the Tet Offensive Avery liked to write poetry He developed this talent during his days in the navy when he had ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

musician and actress, was born Erica Abi Wright in Dallas, Texas, the eldest of three children born to Kolleen Maria Gipson and William Wright Jr. Young Erica's mother worked as a theatrical performer while her maternal grandmother helped to raise the Wright children. Eevin, her brother, was the youngest sibling. The Wright daughters, like their mother, embraced the arts: Koryan, her younger sister, was a singer who would later perform background for Erica under the stage name Nayrok Udab.

At the young age of four, Erica was already exhibiting theatrical and artistic tendencies and began singing and dancing with her mother at the Dallas Theater Center. She was in first grade when her appearance in a Christmas play inspired her early desire to perform onstage. Erica was introduced by her mother to a diverse array of artists who influenced her musical palate, such as Ella Fitzgerald Pink Floyd ...

Article

Joshunda Sanders

media mogul, model, and actress, was born Tyra Lynne Banks and grew up in Inglewood, California. Her father, Donald Banks, was a computer consultant, and her mother, Carolyn London, was a medical photographer and business manager. The couple divorced when Tyra was six years old, in 1980.

Banks attended Immaculate Heart Middle and High School, an all-girl's private school. She credited her mother's photography business and friends' encouragement with her ability to overcome a self-consciousness during her awkward adolescence that almost made her pursue another path.

“I grew three inches and lost 40 pounds in 90 days,” she told the Black Collegian in an interview about her teen years. “It was just this crazy growth spurt. I felt like a freak: people would stare at me in the grocery store.”

A friend encouraged her to try modeling during her senior year At the time several ...

Article

Robyn McGee

His parents were Eva Mae Reeves from Augusta, Georgia and Emory Barnes from Kansas City, Missouri. Barnes has one older sister, Joyce Higa.

Their parents arrived in Los Angeles in 1948, during the post–World War II era, a time when African Americans migrated from the American South to the West for employment. Barnes’ father was an employment consultant and a backup singer for the renowned popular entertainer Nat “King” Cole.

Barnes graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1970 and attended Los Angeles City College and Pepperdine University, majoring in Communications Arts, before leaving school in 1973. In 1995, Barnes married Toni Young, with whom he had a daughter, Nicki Barnes, who went on to a career in theater. Barnes and Young later divorced.

Barnes’ first published work The Locusts was co-written with legendary sci fi writer Larry Niven, author of the long-running Ringworld series The ...

Article

Sandra Y. Govan

A Los Angeles native and later resident of Vancouver, Washington, Steven Emory Barnes is the third African American author after 1960 to have chosen science fiction and fantasy writing as his primary profession. Barnes established himself through the 1980s as a determined and disciplined writer, one who had followed a cherished childhood dream to become a commercially successful professional writer.

The youngest child of Emory F. Barnes and Eva Mae (Reeves) Barnes, Steven Barnes grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles High, Los Angeles City College, and Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (1978–1980 At Pepperdine he majored in communication arts but withdrew from school before completing a degree frustrated because he thought no one on the faculty could teach him about building a career as a professional writer It was not until Barnes made contact with established science fiction writer Ray Bradbury who sent the novice ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Clayton Bates was born in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He lost his leg in a cottonseed mill accident at age twelve but decided at age fifteen to tour the country with a homemade wooden leg. Bates worked as a minstrel in racially integrated vaudeville circuits. He danced in Harlem ...

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C. S'thembile West

choreographer, dancer, and teacher, was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, the son of a housepainter. His parents' names are unknown. In the small town of Cedar Grove, right outside Shreveport, Beatty's earliest dance influence was the legendary Katherine Dunham. According to the historian Joe Nash, a close friend and colleague of Beatty, Dunham invited him to “watch dances in progress” when he was eleven years old. Dunham was in rehearsal for Ruth Page'sLa Guillablesse, scheduled to open at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1933, and was trying to keep the young boy's playing from disrupting her work. Beatty danced onstage for the first time in the opera's 1934 season and emerged as a dancer of note after studying from 1937 to 1940 at Dunham's Studio de la Danse in Shreveport. He danced the role of a priest in Dunham'sYanvalou a ...

Article

Greer C. Bosworth

attorney, was born Sherry Franchesca Bellamy in Harlem, New York, the youngest of seven children of Athelston Alhama Bellamy and Mary Elizabeth Reeves. Sherry's father, born and raised in Harlem, was a career military officer who served with the Tuskegee Airmen and eventually rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force. After retiring from the military he became a court officer and court clerk in the Civil Court of the City of New York. Sherry's mother was born and raised on a race-horse breeding farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Sherry grew up in Harlem and graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School, a Roman Catholic high school whose graduates include many successful minority judges, attorneys, and other professionals.

In 1974 Bellamy graduated from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, with a BA in Political Science. She later received her juris doctor in 1977 from Yale Law School During ...