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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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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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Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, athlete, singer, and producer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Annabelle Patricia West and John Allen Amos Sr., a self-taught diesel auto mechanic and tractor trailer driver. Shortly after his second birthday, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where they lived while John Sr. served in the military during World War II. His father left after the war, and his mother struggled to support her family by working as a domestic and then as a certified dietician. Amos recalled that, “the only time [he] ever saw his mother concede to possible failure was one time when she could not find any food in the cupboards. She had to ask him to go to the next-door neighbor to borrow food” (interview with John Amos by the author, 2010 Amos first joined the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey at about ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Richard J. Leskosky

actor, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the only son of Elizabeth Baskett, a homemaker, and John Baskett, a barber. He was among the first students to attend Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, where he studied pharmacology. A lack of funds, though, forced him to forsake his plans to make that his career.

On a visit to Chicago as a teen, however, he was asked to fill in for a sick performer in a show and developed an interest in acting. On the stage, Baskett toured as singer, actor, and comic under the name Jimmie (sometimes Jimmy) Baskette for most of the top African American companies of the period. He performed with Henry Drake and Ethel Walker's touring variety troupe in Go Get 'Em (1926) and Look Who's Here (1927) and with the prolific Salem Tutt Whitney and J Homer Tutt s ...

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Stephanie Y. Evans

television, stage, and film actor. The Oscar-nominated actor Angela Bassett has managed to attain success while maintaining personal integrity and social conscience. Although her principles have cost her some measure of fame, she has appeared in more than forty television movies and films.

Bassett was born in New York City and was raised in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Her mother, a civil servant, raised Angela and her sister to value hard work and education. After an eleventh-grade Upward Bound trip to see a James Earl Jones performance, Bassett took up acting and was awarded a scholarship to Yale University. In 1980 she earned a bachelor's degree in African American studies, and she earned an MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1983.

Bassett's screen career began in 1985, and F/X (1986) marked her feature-film debut. She gained recognition in Boyz in the Hood (1991 ...

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

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

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Timothy J. O'Brien

rock-and-roll pioneer. Chuck Berry is truly the father of rock and roll. His vibrant songwriting, innovative guitar playing, and live performances inspired legions of followers, and he was the single most important figure in defining a new genre that mixed country and rhythm and blues.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born to Henry William Berry Sr., a carpenter, and Martha Bell Banks, a housewife, in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1926. The family belonged to a Baptist church, and Berry's earliest memories were of his parents singing gospel songs around the house. His first try at show business, singing “Confessin’ the Blues” to a friend's guitar accompaniment at a high school talent show, inspired him to play guitar.

While still in high school in Saint Louis he left for a trip to California with two friends When their money ran low they robbed a few small businesses and ...

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Charmaine A. Flemming

In 2002 the highest honor for a film actor, the Oscar, was awarded for the first time to an African American female, Halle Berry, for her work in Monster’s Ball. Berry is considered one of America’s most beautiful women, a first-rate performer, and one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading ladies.

Born to Jerome and Judith Berry in Cleveland, Ohio, Halle Berry was the second daughter of this interracial couple. Halle and her older sister, Heidi, lived their early childhood years in an inner-city neighborhood. When Berry was four, her abusive father left the family, leaving his daughters to be raised almost totally by their mother, a psychiatric nurse. Some time later, Judith Berry moved Halle and her sister to the predominantly white Cleveland suburb of Bedford.

When discussing the family s move to Bedford Berry said it was there that her growth as an interracial child and teenager was ...

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Stephanie Y. Evans

actor. Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Jerome Berry, an African American hospital attendant, and Judith Hawkins Berry, a white psychiatric nurse. Leaving an abusive relationship, Judith Berry moved Halle and her older sister Heidi to the Cleveland suburb of Bedford where, despite many racist attitudes, Halle flourished in high school.

In 1985 Berry won the Miss Teen All American pageant, in 1986 she was first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant, and also in 1986 she represented the United States in the Miss World competition in London. After her pageants she enrolled in Cleveland's Cuyahoga Community College to study broadcast journalism. She moved to Chicago and then to Manhattan, where she managed to get small roles in several television programs.

Berry first gained widespread recognition as Vivian, a crack addict, in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991), and she won roles in The ...

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Scott Sheidlower

singer and actress. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles—or, as she is also known, Beyoncé—was born to Mathew and Tina Knowles in Houston, Texas. Her father sold medical scanners, and her mother ran a hair salon. With LaTavia Roberson and Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé was recruited by two Houston businessmen to form a preteen rhythm-and-blues group under the name Girl's Tyme, which the businessmen managed. In 1992 the group appeared on a nationally syndicated televised talent competition, Star Search, and lost doing a rap song.

Shortly thereafter Beyoncé's father took over as her manager. He added LeToya Luckett to the group, creating a rhythm-and-blues quartet that they named the Dolls. The Dolls began to perform in concerts starring artists such as Nas. In 1997 they changed their name to Destiny s Child and they signed with the Columbia recording label Their first recording Killing Time appeared on the soundtrack for ...