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Robyn McGee

of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (MPAS), was born Cheryl Boone in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her father, Ashley, Sr., was a postal worker and her mother, Doris Boone, a stay at home mom. Boone Isaacs is the youngest of four children, one sister Velma Fahrer and two brothers, Richard Boone and the late Ashley A. Boone Jr. (1938–1994), the latter who was also a Hollywood pioneer. He was the first African American studio marketing and distribution executive whose successes included Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Ashley was a role model for his sister and is often credited for opening doors for her. Ashley and Cheryl were the first brother and sister ever to serve as governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the same time.

She graduated from Springfield’s Classical High School in 1967 and after graduation she ...

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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 ...

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Jim Haskins

entertainer and nightclub operator, was born in Alderson, West Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Smith, a barber, and Hattie E. (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia, because her parents did not wish to disappoint the various neighbors and friends who offered suggestions for naming her, Bricktop received her nickname because of her red hair when she was in her late twenties from Barron Wilkins, owner of a nightclub called Barron's Exclusive Club in Prohibition-era Harlem.

Bricktop's father died when she was four, and her mother moved with the children to Chicago to be near relatives. Hattie Smith worked as a domestic in Chicago, and her children attended school. Bricktop showed early musical talent and interest in performing. She made her stage debut as a preschooler, playing the part of Eliza's son Harry in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin at ...

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George A. Thompson

theater manager and playwright, was born in the West Indies, probably on Saint Vincent, before 1780. Little is known about Brown's early life. He worked for some years as a steward on passenger ships, then left the sea and settled in New York City, where he worked as a tailor. The 1820 census shows him as middle-aged and free, living with his wife and daughter. At about this time he opened a public garden in the grounds behind his house on Thomas Street, between West Broadway and Hudson Street. An open-air cabaret offering light refreshments and music, the African Grove, as he called it, served the city's African American population, which was excluded from the other larger public gardens in the city.

The African Grove presumably opened in the spring of 1821, but the only knowledge of it comes from a story in the National Advocate of ...

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Peter Carr Jones

music, fashion, and movie industry entrepreneur. The former co-owner of Roc-A-Fella Records with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Damon Dash cross-promoted several products within a single brand, Roc-A-Fella. He ran the corporate side of Roc-A-Fella, especially the fashion and movie production divisions, until being bought out in 2004.

Dash was born in East Harlem, New York, to a lower-middle class, single-parent family. He earned scholarships to several prestigious private schools, though each expelled him. His mother died when Dash was only fifteen, but he continued his education until the twelfth grade, and got his GED in 1988. After this, he ran a small party promotion company, Dash Entertainment.

In 1994 he met Jay-Z and became his manager. When the established record companies passed on Jay-Z's original album, Reasonable Doubt, Dash, Jay-Z, and silent partner Burke formed Roc-A-Fella in 1996 Def Jam Records ...

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Claranne Perkins

music executive, television and film producer, and screenwriter, was born in New York, New York. Her father worked for Seagram's and her mother was a schoolteacher. Her paternal grandfather was a physician in Harlem.

Her parents divorced when she was three but managed to maintain a supportive environment for their daughter. She spent the week with her mother and the weekend with her father. He remarried when de Passe was nine, and the three adults formed a supportive alliance that continued to nurture de Passe.

She lived the elite life of prominent black families in New York. She summered on Martha's Vineyard; attended the private, progressive, and integrated New Lincoln School; graduated from Manhattan High School; and entered Syracuse University in 1964 She found the university and its extremely small African American student body not to her liking so transferred to Manhattan Community College to major ...

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John Garst

bootblack, barber, porter, actor, singer, and politician, was born William Henry Harrison Duncan in Columbia, Missouri, to former slaves. A close friend, Henry Massey, persuaded him to come to St. Louis, where he was a “sport, a jolly fellow, a swell dresser, a ladies' favorite, but, above all, he was a magnificent singer.” As a member of Massey's Climax Quartet Duncan gained fame for his low, smooth, rich, sure, bass voice. He was also an actor and performed regularly at the London Theatre in St. Louis.

In Clayton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, Duncan was hanged for the murder of an Irish American policeman named James Brady in Charles Starkes's saloon at 715 N. 11th Street. A popular ballad complex (“Duncan and Brady,” “Brady and Duncan,” “Brady,” “King Brady”) arose after the murder.

At about 8:30 p.m. on 6 October 1890 ...

Article

Todd Steven Burroughs

The beginning of the development of American film intersected with American racism. The creation of a fantasy world allowed a new forum to project how whites not only saw themselves but saw the “other.” All of the popular culture images of the nineteenth century were updated and refined by the new medium, including racist imagery of African Americans. Film, then, allowed these images—these myths of life in general and American life in particular—to have psychic permanence, to be repeated, over and over again, to large international audiences. Black filmmakers, both independent from and well within the Hollywood system, sought to counter these images from the very beginning, too. They crafted stories that, if only for moments, crushed the stereotypes of the “Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks” (the list is from Donald Bogle's classic study of black images in film in which they were surrounded They created both Saturday ...

Article

The negative images that dominate the depictions of African Americans in American popular culture had their roots in blackface entertainment and minstrelsy, an art form in which white men blackened their faces with burned cork and performed in public their imitations of plantation slave songs, dances, dialects, and jokes. During the nineteenth century, it became the most important form of theatrical entertainment in the United States. In time, black entertainers adopted blackface minstrelsy as an acceptable art form as well, and entertainers from George Walker and Bert Williams to Dewey Pigmeat Markham made it an integral part of their stage and comedic routines However the images of African Americans that blackface minstrelsy created included the mammy coon and Sambo caricatures and stereotypes The demise of blackface entertainment was inevitable as the struggle for equal rights began but the negative images of blacks that resulted were perpetuated over the years ...

Article

Eric Bennett

George Foreman grew up in Houston, Texas, and had a rough early life, dropping out of high school, drinking heavily, and committing petty larcenies. In 1965 he turned his life around by joining the Job Corps, where he encountered Boxing. Showing exceptional natural skill for the sport, Foreman won his first official amateur fight in 1967 with a first-round knockout. His talent developed quickly, and in 1968 he won a gold medal for the United States at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City.

The following year Foreman launched his record-breaking professional career. By 1973 he had knocked out thirty-six consecutive opponents and won the title of heavyweight champion from Joe Frazier. Foreman defended his title until 1974, when underdog Muhammad Ali knocked him out in Kinshasa, Zaire.

After a fight in Puerto Rico in 1977 Foreman experienced a religious awakening that led him to ...

Article

Debbie Clare Olson

actor, producer, director, nightclub owner, and restaurateur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Mayme Edna Revere Freeman and Morgan Porterfield Freeman. When he was two years old, Morgan's parents, like many others at the time, went north to look for work and to escape the Jim Crow conditions of the Deep South. Morgan and his sister, Iris, went to Mississippi to live with their paternal grandmother until her death four years later. Morgan and his sister then rejoined his parents in Chicago. A few months later, Morgan's mother and father separated and for a few years Morgan and his sister moved back and forth between Mississippi and Chicago.

After graduating in 1955 from Greenwood High School in Mississippi, Morgan joined the air force, where he served as a radar mechanic between 1955 and 1959 After he was discharged Morgan went to Los Angeles ...

Article

Eric Ledell Smith

theater entrepreneur and prominent Philadelphia businessman, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of George Henry and Elizabeth Gibson. In his biography in the 1929 edition of Who's Who in Colored America Gibson claimed to have attended public school in Baltimore but it is unclear whether he graduated from high school. The historian Henry T. Sampson in his book Blacks in Blackface reports that Gibson attended Morgan State Preparatory School (later Morgan State University) for two years. In 1928, however, he would receive an honorary doctorate from Morgan State. Sometime around 1899 Gibson moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked in various jobs, including weaving, upholstering furniture, and peddling meat. In 1910 he became part owner with Samuel Reading of the North Pole Theater in Philadelphia. This small theater in the black Philadelphia community offered silent films and vaudeville acts. Around 1912 Gibson bought out his partner ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

songwriter, entrepreneur, and filmmaker, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the seventh of eight children of Berry Gordy Sr. and Bertha Fuller. After Reconstruction, Gordy's paternal grandfather, who was born a slave, managed to acquire 168 acres of land where he and his wife, Lucy Hellum, raised nine children, one of them being Gordy's father. Gordy's mother was of direct African descent on her father's side and of African and American Indian heritage on her mother's side. She was a schoolteacher in Sandersville, Georgia, and married Berry Gordy Sr. in 1918, when he returned from service in World War I.

In 1922 Gordy's parents left Milledgeville, Georgia, and settled in Detroit with their three oldest children. Unlike the majority of black migrants to the North, the Gordys owned their own home. Seven years and five children later, Berry Jr. was born on Thanksgiving Day ...

Article

Shelia Patrice Moses

comedian, civil right activist, nutritionist, and actor, was born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up on North Taylor Street with his mother, Lucille, and his five siblings. His father, Presley Sr., abandoned the family when Gregory was very young. On North Taylor Street, Gregory told jokes to the neighborhood children, jokes that would later lead to his fame as a comedian. For most of his childhood, however, he faced poverty and racism. His first brush with segregation came at an early age when he raised his hand and volunteered to give five dollars to needy children after the teacher asked his class if their parents would be able to make donations for Christmas. His teacher told him to “put your hand down, Richard this money is for your kind The entire class laughed at him as he ran out ...

Article

George A. Thompson

actor and singer, is a person about whom little early information is known. He told an interviewer in 1825 that he had been born in Rockaway, Long Island, New York, but James McCune Smith who had known the Hewlett boy suggested that he might have been born in the West Indies. The 1830 census indicated that he was older than thirty-six, and the 1825 interviewer states that he had been a servant to a well-known actor who died in 1812. This all suggests that he was born in the early- or mid-1790s. It also is not known whether he was born slave or free. A number of his ancestors were Euro-Americans, however, as his light skin tone was frequently remarked upon.

As a young man Hewlett worked on boats as a steward acting as servant to the officers and passengers probably out of New York City He also ...

Article

David Bradford

show business entrepreneur, minstrel company owner and manager, interlocutor, singer, and comedian, claimed to have been born a slave in Baltimore, Maryland. Nothing is known of his parents.

The minstrel show was, by some measures, the most popular form of public entertainment during the mid-nineteenth century. For African Americans pursuing careers in show business, there were few alternatives to blackface minstrelsy, leading to the perplexing situation of black performers perpetuating white caricatures of blacks. Some African Americans were disdainful of minstrel shows in general and especially those staged by performers of their own race (since they gave “aid and comfort to the enemy,” according to James Monroe Trotter a chronicler of black musical achievement in the 1870s Nevertheless the best black minstrel companies were enormously popular with black as well as white audiences After attending a performance of the Georgia Minstrels even the erudite ...

Article

Hua Hsu

hip-hop artist, actor, record executive, and movie executive, was born O'Shea Jackson in Los Angeles, California, to Hosea and Doris Jackson. Both his parents were employed at the University of California at Los Angeles, his father as a machinist and groundskeeper and his mother as a clerk. Though Jackson was raised in South Central Los Angeles, he was bused to the suburbs of San Fernando Valley to attend William Howard Taft High School. While in high school Jackson grew fascinated with hip hop culture; he began writing raps in earnest in ninth-grade, after winning an informal contest with a classmate to see who could compose the better rhyme. Fascinated with the pimp-turned-author Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck), Jackson adopted the name Ice Cube.

In the mid-1980s Ice Cube and two friends, K-Dee and Sir Jinx formed a group C I A ...

Article

Ice Cube was born O'Shea Jackson and raised in South Central Los Angeles, California, one of the nation's toughest inner-city neighborhoods. His parents held jobs at the University of California at Los Angeles. Cube, as he is known, composed his first Rap, or metered, rhyming lyrics, in ninth-grade typing class, and found that his music, which combined violent fantasies and bawdy humor, was well received by peers. Within a few years, Cube was rapping with a group, CIA, that performed at parties around South Central Los Angeles. In the mid-1980s, along with fellow rappers Eazy E., Dr. Dre, M. C. Ren, and D. J. Yella, Cube formed the group N.W.A. (usually spelled out as Niggaz With Attitude). Their gritty messages of anger and violence set them apart from more politically minded East Coast Hip-Hop artists.

Cube left N.W.A. in 1987 to pursue ...

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Ice-T  

Ice-T was born Tracey Morrow in Newark, New Jersey. Following the death of his parents in a car accident in 1968, Ice-T moved to South Central Los Angeles, California, where he attended high school. During this time he reportedly stole cars and wrote rhyming slogans for local street gangs. Ice-T took his name from Iceberg Slim, a local pimp who wrote novels and poetry and with whom Ice-T was acquainted. After high school, Ice-T joined the army but returned to Los Angeles four years later. He recorded “The Coldest Rap” on a local label to launch his musical career.

A prolific and outspoken Rap artist, Ice-T helped pioneer the “gangsta” musical style, in which the turmoil of urban street life is exposed through blunt, explicit lyrics and a bass-heavy, fluid musical style. In 1984 Ice T s first recording on a major label appeared on ...

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James Sellman

Quincy Delight Jones, Jr., has had several careers in popular entertainment, including roles as a big-band musician, composer-arranger, record company executive, producer of films and music videos, magazine publisher, and partner in a television production company. He has emerged as one of the most influential figures in Hollywood. He commenced his music career in Seattle, Washington, where his family moved during the mid-1940s from Chicago, Illinois, where he was born. He sang in a vocal harmony group directed by Joseph Powe, who had once been with Wings over Jordan. After trying various instruments in high school band, Jones settled on the trumpet.

As a teenager, Jones played in local Jazz and Rhythm and Blues groups. He became acquainted with Ray Charles, an early musical influence, who moved to the Seattle area in 1950 Besides leading his own trio Charles wrote and arranged for the five ...