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Christine Matzke

Eritrean comedian, theater artist, musician, and sports teacher, was born on 1 February 1925 during the Italian colonial period in Eritrea in Abba Shawl, the poor segregated Eritrean quarters of the capital Asmara. His father was Kahsay Woldegebr, and his mother, Ghebriela Fitwi.

At the age of ten he attended an Orthodox Church school and then received four years of Italian schooling, the maximum period of formal education for Eritreans under Italian rule. Thereafter Alemayo worked as a messenger for an Italian lawyer and, at the age of seventeen, found employment as a stagehand in Cinema Asmara, then Teatro Asmara, an imposing Italian theater and center for Italian social and cultural life. Here Alemayo was exposed to European variety shows, operas, and cinema that fascinated him greatly, particularly the genre of comedy, such as the works of Charlie Chaplin and the Neapolitan comedian Totò.

Italian colonization was characterized by strict ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

The wit, wisdom, and power of Angelou's work have made her one of the most beloved contemporary American writers. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Later she chose a new name for herself by combining her childhood nickname, Maya, with a version of her first husband's last name. Her family moved to California soon after her birth, but her parents divorced when she was three, and she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to be raised by her paternal grandmother. When Angelou was seven, her mother's boyfriend raped her. The trauma of this made Angelou unable to speak for five years. During this period she began to read widely.

Angelou returned to California during high school and took drama and dance lessons. As a teenager, she became San Francisco's first female streetcar conductor. She gave birth at age sixteen to her only child, Guy Johnson To ...

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Françoise Lionnet

A prolific author, with a successful career as a singer, actress, and dancer, Maya Angelou became one of America's most famous poets when she stood before the nation to deliver her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton's inauguration on 20 January 1993. At sixty-four years old, she was the first black woman to be asked to compose such a piece, and the second poet to be so recognized after the pairing of Robert Frost and John F. Kennedy in 1961. Born Marguerite Johnson in St Louis but raised in Arkansas Angelou was a natural choice for the forty second president and fellow Arkansan The poem reflects a theme that is common to all of Angelou s published works namely that human beings are more alike than different and that a message of hope and inclusion is a most inspiring dream and ideal ...

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Tasha M. Hawthorne

Angelou’s creative talent and genius cut across many arenas. One of the most celebrated authors in the United States, Angelou writes with an honesty and grace that captures the specificity of growing up a young black girl in the rural South.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey, a doorman and naval dietician, and Vivian, a registered nurse, professional gambler, and rooming house and bar owner, Angelou spent her early years in Long Beach, California. When she was three, her parents divorced, and she and her four-year-old brother, Bailey Jr., were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their maternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou recalls in vivid detail this lonely and disconcerting journey to Stamps.

Under the watchful and loving gaze of her grandmother Angelou lived a life defined by staunch Christian values and her grandmother s ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

Article

Suzi Takahashi

actor, director, educator, and artist advocate, was born Osceola Marie Macarthy in Albany, Georgia, of black, white, and Native American racial heritage. The daughter of a life insurance executive, Archer attended Fisk University Preparatory School in Nashville, Tennessee. She then enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1909, where she was a pupil of Alain Locke and the sociologist Kelly Miller. Self‐defined as a suffragette, in 1913, her senior year at Howard, Archer and twenty‐one fellow female students cofounded one of the largest black fraternal organizations in the United States, Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority dedicated to community service and the mutual support of African American women. That same year Archer began to pursue her interest in drama by performing the title role in the Howard University Dramatics Club production of The Lady of Lyon a Victorian romantic comedy known as a showcase for actors ...

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Nancy Kang

playwright, academic, director, and producer, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, near Nashville. One of nine children Bass grew up in a segregated area of the capital, the son of Clarence Bass, a Baptist minister, and Mabel Dixon Bass, a retired schoolteacher and health-care worker. The atmosphere of his childhood home was closely knit and disciplined; life revolved around education and religion. Bass earned his bachelor's degree in Mathematics with honors from Fisk University in 1959. While a senior, he met the Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps, then a Fisk librarian, who brokered the student's formative literary partnership with Langston Hughes. Bass then attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Business (1959–1960 to study finance but quit because of what he felt was endemic racism in the academic and social milieu He received an MA from New York University s Film ...

Article

Thomas F. DeFrantz

Afro‐Caribbean dancer and choreographer, was born Percival Sebastian Borde in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, where he finished secondary schooling at Queens Royal College and took an appointment with the Trinidad Railway Company. Around 1942 he began formal research on Afro‐Caribbean dance and performed with the Little Carib Dance Theatre. In 1949 he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had one child. The year of their divorce is unknown.

Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture. In the early 1950s he acted as director of the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. In 1953 he met the noted American anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus who was conducting field research in Caribbean folklore Primus convinced Borde to immigrate to the United States as ...

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Mary Anne Boelcskevy

actor and singer, was born Laura Bradford in Quincy, Illinois, the daughter of a Dutch mother and a father with mixed black and white parentage. She grew up in Cincinnati, where she sang in church choirs. Her early family life was difficult, and her father arranged her marriage at sixteen to Henry Ward Bowman, a railroad porter. The unhappy marriage lasted only two years. In 1902 Bowman's dream of a singing career began with her professional debut as a member of the chorus in the Midwest tour of the Williams and Walker Company's production of In Dahomey. The show went on to New York and in 1903 toured England, where it also played at Buckingham Palace for the ninth birthday of the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII.

During the tour of In Dahomey Bowman fell in love with Pete Hampton another performer in the show Soon after ...

Article

Barbara Bonous-Smit

Americantap dancer and choreographer, was born James Richard Brown in Baltimore, Maryland, to William Brown and Marie Ella Otho-Brown. The only boy, he had seven sisters.

Dance played an important part in Brown's life beginning in elementary school. Inspired by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson while at the Douglas High School, Brown developed a serious interest in tap dancing and tapped in his high school annual production, Autumn Follies. He was not given dance instruction but picked up a bebop jazz style of dance from the streets and from performances he attended at the Royal Theatre in Maryland. Brown and his friends imitated and further developed steps they saw at theaters and they also taught each other any new steps they picked up. At the Royal Theatre in 1929 Brown saw an inspiring performance of the celebrated Whitman Sisters and their nephew, Pops Whitman They would have ...

Article

Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician and educator, was born in Mebanesville, North Carolina, one of eight children. Her parents' names are not known. There are no records of Brown's earlier education, but in 1881 she enrolled at Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina, and graduated in 1885. Four years later she married David Brown, a minister, and the following year entered Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, founded in 1850 and the first medical school for women in America. When Brown matriculated at the school in 1891, it was one of the best medical colleges in the country.

After graduating from Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1894 Brown returned to North Carolina and practiced medicine in her home state for two years before going to Charleston South Carolina where she became the first female physician of African ancestry in South Carolina A year later a fellow alumna from Woman s ...

Article

Gerard Robinson

military pilot and educator, was born in Washington, D.C., the elder of two children born to Vivian Brown, a public school teacher, and Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Sr., a dentist and newspaper editor who served in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's “black cabinet.” As a young boy Brown lived with his family in Depression-era Washington, D.C., where economic troubles were as harsh as racial segregation in the city's social spheres. Public education was no exception. But Brown did not allow racial bigotry to stifle his academic interests.

Brown began his formal education at Blanche K Bruce School a segregated public institution named after a black U S senator from Mississippi elected during Reconstruction He was fortunate to receive a first rate education at the academically prestigious Paul Laurence Dunbar High School formerly the M Street High School a black public school named after the eminent black poet and alma ...

Article

Frank Cha

playwright, teacher, and activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Clara and John Burrill. She attended the M Street School, originally named the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, and there developed an interest in literature and theatrics. Upon graduating high school in 1901, she moved with her family to Boston, where she enrolled at Emerson College and became one of the first African Americans to graduate from the school in 1904.

In 1905 Burrill moved back to Washington, D.C., and began a career in teaching that would last almost forty years. She alternated between Armstrong Technical High School and her alma mater, renamed Dunbar High School after the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar Burrill taught English and drama eventually accepting a permanent position at Dunbar one of the leading schools for African Americans in the Washington D C area in the early ...

Article

Rebecca L. Hankins

journalist, educator, lecturer, and actress, was born Marguerite Phillips Dorsey in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the only child of Joseph A. Dorsey, an architect and real estate broker, and Mary Louise Ross. Marguerite Cartwright's early education was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She later earned her BS Ed. and MA degrees from Boston University in 1932 and 1933, respectively. Her master's thesis was on the African origins of drama, contending that the Greek god Dionysus was an African. She married the chemical engineer Leonard Carl Cartwright in 1930, an interracial union that lasted over fifty years, until his death in 1982.

Cartwright combined her academic interest in theater with an application as an actress in a number of plays and films, including the play Roll Sweet Chariot (1934) in New York City and the film Green Pastures (1935 Simultaneously working as an actress and a ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

The illustrious career of Carmen DeLavallade began at the midpoint of the twentieth century and continued into the twenty-first century. In that time she graced the arenas of dance, theater, movies, and television as one of the great dancers of her time, as well as a distinguished choreographer, actor, and teacher.

Carmen Paula DeLavallade was born in Los Angeles, California, to Leo Paul DeLavallade, a bricklayer and postman, and Grace DeLavallade She was a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles when she won an apprenticeship in the Lester Horton Dance Theater Horton a pioneer of modern dance believed that a dancer s education should be well rounded and his apprentices were taught ballet modern and ethnic dance forms as well as painting sculpture and acting Being a Horton apprentice also meant learning from experience the rudiments of scenic design costuming and stage lighting With ...

Article

Cynthia Staples

was born in Bloomfield, Kentucky and little is known about his early life. In the 1880s, while singing in his local church, he either received encouragement or independently developed a desire to become a professional singer. In order to accomplish this, he traveled to New York City in that same decade and quickly became acclimated to the musical world. He worked a series of odd jobs to make money so that he could pay for professional voice, language, and music lessons from instructors such as voice coach John Howard. His teachers introduced him to a world of music he had not known before. He fell in love with opera, a classical form of music that, for Drury, was far more uplifting than the popular and too often derogatory minstrel shows of the late nineteenth century.

In 1889 with the aid of private benefactors who today are largely unknown Drury ...

Article

Mary Anne Boelcskevy

playwright and educator, was born Sheppard Randolph Edmonds in Lawrenceville, Virginia, one of the nine children of George Washington Edmonds and Frances Fisherman, sharecroppers and former slaves. His mother had been moved from New Orleans to a nearby plantation around Petersburg, Virginia, during the Civil War. She died when Randolph was twelve. Like many other black children, Edmonds attended school for only a short part of the year—in his case five months—and worked the rest on nearby plantations. He went on to attend St. Paul's Normal and Industrial School (later St. Paul's College), the local high school in Lawrenceville, and worked during the summers of 1918–1920 as a waiter in New York City, where he first attended the theater. In 1921 he graduated as valedictorian, with prizes in both English and history. The director of academics at St. Paul's, J. Alvin Russell encouraged him to attend his ...

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Barbara L. Ciccarelli

dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher, was born in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Mildred Dill. Her mother tried to enroll the four-year-old Syvilla in ballet classes, but teachers refused her entrance because they were afraid they would lose clientele by admitting an African American student. Her mother then recruited a group of black children interested in learning dance and hired the advanced white ballet students to teach them. At nine Syvilla had private teachers and was on her way to becoming an African American pioneer in ballet and modern dance.

Sensitive throughout her life to discrimination, Fort passed on what she learned to other black children. As a high school freshman, she taught ballet, tap, and modern dance to as many as sixteen children under the age of thirteen for fifty cents a lesson. In 1935 Fort received a scholarship and became the first black ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Haile Gerima was born in Gondar, Ethiopia. As a child, he acted in his father’s troupe, performing across Ethiopia. In 1967 Gerima moved to the United States and two years later enrolled in the University of California at Los Angeles drama school. There he became familiar with the ideas of black American leader Malcolm X and wrote plays about slavery and black militancy. After reading the revolutionary theory of Third Cinema, however, Gerima began to experiment with film. Gerima returned to Ethiopia in 1974 to film Harvest: 3,000 Years his first full length film and the only one of his works to be shot in Africa Although famine and the recent military overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie I placed severe restrictions on the film crew the final result was a sophisticated examination through the story of a village that finally overthrows its feudal landlord of the centuries ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Chiquinha Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro to an unwed mother of mixed race. After being officially recognized by her father, she received all the trappings of an education befitting the daughter of a military man so that she might serve in the court of Pedro II. After a strict upbringing she married a wealthy commander in Brazil's merchant marines when she was still a teenager; yet, much to her family's chagrin, she swapped an oppressive home life for the bohemian music halls of Rio at the age of eighteen.

Though Gonzaga had performed her first song, “Canção de Pastores,” at a family gathering on Christmas Eve in 1858, her first successful composition, a polka titled “Atraente,” was not published until 1877 In the meantime cut off by her family she managed to build a reputation as a piano teacher and made a living playing in ...