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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 ...

Article

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 ...

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 ...

Article

Cynthia Hawkins

ceramist, sculptor, filmmaker, and cofounder (with her husband, James Hatch) of the Hatch‐Billops Collection, an archive of African American cultural history, was born in Los Angeles, California, to Lucius Billops, a cook and merchant seaman, and Alma Gilmore, a dressmaker, maid, and aircraft assembly worker. Billops graduated from Catholic Girls High School in 1952, and in 1954 she began her studies at the University of Southern California. She majored in occupational therapy, which included drawing, sculpture, and ceramics. She transferred to Los Angeles State College in 1956 after she became pregnant, and then she changed her major to special education. Billops worked during the day as a bank bookkeeper and maintained a full academic workload in the evening. At the end of 1956 her daughter, Christa, was born, and Billops put her up for adoption. This was an experience she would explore in her 1992 ...

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 ...

Article

Baron Kelly

concert opera singer and teacher, was the oldest of four girls born to Dr. Harry F. Brown and Mamie Wiggins in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother was her first music teacher, and mother and daughters would frequently sing around the piano. Anne grew up listening to the recordings of Caruso, Melba, and Schumann-Heink. Toward the end of World War I, when Anne was six years old, she made her concert debut with her younger sister Henrietta singing for returning African American soldiers at Camp Meade in Baltimore. At age twelve Anne began attending Frederick Douglass Senior High School, then the city's only public high school open to blacks. During her high school years, she attended a wider range of concerts including performances by Marian Anderson and Roland Hayes at Baltimore s Lyric Theatre After graduation from high school Anne hoped to continue her education at the Peabody Conservatory Her audition ...

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

Angolan anthropologist, writer, and filmmaker, was born in Santarém, Portugal, on 22 April 1941. His family immigrated to Angola in 1953, to the city of Moçamedes, where he spent part of his adolescence. He then returned to Portugal, where in 1960 he finished a course in agronomy. During these Portuguese years, he kept himself at a distance from the group of young nationalist students from the colonies, who tended to congregate around the Casa dos Estudantes do Império in Lisbon, to discuss and denounce the iniquity of the Portuguese colonial system.

Carvalho returned to Angola in 1960. He was living in the province of Uìge when, in 1961, the anticolonial activity of the Movimento Popular para la Libertação de Angola (MPLA) began, which would lead to Angola eventually achieving independence in 1975 In those years Ruy Duarte de Carvalho worked as a coffee grower and ...

Article

Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

Alice Childress was never flattered by the litany of firsts that were used to refer to her works She believed that when people have been barred from something for so long it seems ironic to emphasize the first Instead Childress looked to the day when she would be the fiftieth or one hundredth African American artist to accomplish something Long regarded as a champion of the masses of poor people in America Childress wrote about the disparity between rich and poor underscoring that racism and sexism are added burdens forced upon women of color A reticent and private person Childress boldly spoke out in her works against an American government that either exploits or ignores poor people in the name of capitalism One of Childress s strongest convictions was that black authors must explore and include black history in their writings Her sagacity and commitment to preserving black culture and ...

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

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 ...

Article

Sarah B. Buchanan

, Togolese filmmaker and international legal adviser for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, was born Ayele Folly-Reimann on 31 March 1954 in Lomé, Togo, to Amah Folly (a producer at the French world-music recording company OCORA and then at Radio France International) and Juliette Reimann. She has one sister. Folly studied law in Paris at the Université de Paris II–Panthéon-Assas. She began her career as an international legal adviser for UNESCO in 1981.

In the early 1990s Folly began making films In spired by Sarah Maldoror a French Guadeloupean filmmaker and Safi Faye a Senegalese filmmaker and ethnologist whom she has called des militantes dont le travail cinématographique est inspirant car il interroge l essence des problématiques des Africaines militants whose cinematographic work is inspiring because it interrogates the heart of the problems confronting African women Folly turned to film because she considers it similar to ...

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 ...

Article

Wanda Macon

Sam Greenlee has employed the Black literary tradition to produce such masterpieces as The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969) and Baghdad Blues (1976). Greenlee was born on 13 July 1930 in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. As a young man he attended the University of Wisconsin, where he received his BS in 1952. Greenlee further studied at the University of Chicago (1954–1957) and the University of Thessaloniki, Greece (1963–1964). His career started as a United States Information Agency Foreign Service Officer in Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Greece. His military service included time in the U.S. Army Infantry from 1952 to 1954. Greenlee received the London Sunday Times book of the year award in 1969 for The Spook Who Sat by the Door and the Meritorious Service Award from the United States Information Agency He currently resides in Chicago Illinois ...

Article

Cara Moyer-Duncan

Ethiopian filmmaker and professor, was born on 4 March 1946 in Gondar, Ethiopia. Gerima’s father, Tafeka, was a playwright, teacher, and priest. His mother, also a teacher, often regaled him with stories from the Ethiopian oral tradition. He began acting in high school as a member of his father’s traveling theater company. His exposure to film started when he obtained a job at a local movie house. He became fascinated with foreign films, particularly Hollywood westerns. After completing high school, Gerima studied acting in Addis Ababa.

In 1967 Gerima traveled to the United States to attend the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago. There he experienced sociocultural isolation and racism. He was pressured to modify his accent and cast in plays that had no connection to his African experiences. Gerima turned to the African American community for support. Writings by Malcolm X and other black radicals provided inspiration. In 1968 ...

Article

Rachel Westley

playwright and director, author, and educator, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, to Thelma Inez Harrison and Paul Randolph Harrison. Although he was reared in the North and nurtured by the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, his roots are from below the Mason-Dixon Line, in North and South Carolina.

In the South the Harrison family was strongly immersed in Gullah culture and Marcus Garvey s Back to Africa movement Harrison s grandfather in fact was a major leader of and played an active role in the Garvey movement in North Carolina The household was also greatly involved in the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in the Carolinas and much of the mystical curiosity in Harrison s work can be attributed to his grandmother s spiritual influence He was embraced by this richness as a young man and it created the resonating aura of self ...

Article

Justin David Gifford

author, professor of creative writing, actor, television host, and key figure in the black crime fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Gladys Pruitt Heard, a blues singer, and Nathan E. Heard, a laborer. Heard was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, and, at the age of fifteen, he dropped out of high school. Heard spent much of the 1950s and 1960s in reform school and then in New Jersey State Prison at Trenton for armed robbery and parole violation.

Like his fellow African American crime writers Chester Himes and Donald Goines, Heard began his literary career while behind bars. It was while he was serving eight years in prison for armed robbery in the early 1960s that Heard began reading the fiction of the Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs and other ...

Article

Meron Langsner

actor, director, and educator, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Elihue Henderson and Naomi Johnson. His father was employed at various jobs, one of which was making ice cream for the DeCorcey company of Kansas City, Kansas, after military service during the Korean conflict left him partially disabled. His mother was a hairstylist for a funeral home, a nightclub waitress, and finally a receptionist for Swope Park Community Medical Center.

Henderson attended school in Kansas City, Kansas, prior to integration. After graduating from Sumner High School in 1967, he briefly attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, a historically black institution founded by the Black Cavalry. After a year as a member of Lincoln's resident stage ensemble, the Stagecrafters, Henderson moved to New York City and joined the Juilliard Drama Division, where John Houseman, Michel and Suria Saint Denis and other distinguished ...