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Mark Clague and John H. Zimmerman

flutist, composer, bandmaster, music educator, journalist, and hotelier, was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies (later U.S. Virgin Islands) and is remembered as the U.S. Navy's first African American bandmaster. Adams was the son of Jacob Henry Adams, a carpenter, and Petrina Evangeline Dinzey, a tailor; both his parents were members of the black artisan class centered around St. Thomas's port. This culture celebrated music and literature and instilled the young Adams with values of hard work and self-education. Although professional musicians were unknown in the Virgin Islands in his youth, Adams dreamt of a musical career inspired by his deeply held belief that music was not just entertainment, but vital to community health.

Adams attended elementary school and apprenticed as a carpenter and then a shoemaker choosing his trade based on the musical abilities of his master ...

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Candace Cardwell

choreographer and dancer. Born in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey was raised in a single-parent home headed by his mother, Lula Elizabeth Cooper. Ailey and his mother earned money by picking cotton and doing domestic work for local families. In 1942 Ailey moved to Los Angeles; he attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and Jefferson High School, where he developed an interest in music and literature. After graduation he went on to study literature at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Ailey's dance training began in 1949 when a friend, Carmen DeLavallade, introduced him to Lester Horton, founder of the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Horton was one of the few dance instructors who accepted black students, and he became Ailey's first dance coach. When Horton died in 1953 Ailey became the director of the company The following year Ailey moved to New York City where ...

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Ayesha Kanji

entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker, was born Wallace Amos Jr. in Tallahassee, Florida, to Ruby (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker, and Wallace Amos a laborer at the local gasoline plant Hard work discipline and religion were the cornerstones of Wally s strict childhood The Christian faith was important to his parents and they took him to church regularly By the age of eight Wally had learned all the books of the Bible In their tight knit black community Friday nights were reserved for community dinners where hearty southern fare was served fried chicken potato salad black eyed peas and collard greens Schooling options for black children were less abundant however so Ruby and several of her Methodist church members started a school which Wally began attending at age ten Wally s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in his childhood when he started a roving shoeshine stand and ...

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Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

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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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Constance Valis Hill

tap dancer and entrepreneur, was born Clayton Bates in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, the son of Rufus Bates, a laborer, and Emma Stewart a sharecropper and housecleaner He began dancing when he was five At age twelve while working in a cotton seed gin mill he caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt The leg was amputated on the kitchen table at his home Although he was left with only one leg and a wooden peg leg that his uncle carved for him Bates resolved to continue dancing It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two legged dancer he recalled It hurt me that the boys pitied me I was pretty popular before and I still wanted to be popular I told them not to feel sorry for me He meant it He began ...

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John Harris-Behling

disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.

Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...

Article

Christine Gangelhoff and Cathleen LeGrand

was born Christopher Percy Gordon Blackwell in London, England, on 22 June 1937. His father, Middleton (“Blackie”) Joseph Blackwell, was British. His mother, Blanche Lindo, came from a prominent white Jamaican family and was a glamorous hostess to celebrities such as Errol Flynn, Ian Fleming, and Noel Coward. Although both of his parents were white, Chris Blackwell would play a central role in the global popularization of black Jamaican music in the second half of the twentieth century.

Sickly and asthmatic as a youth, Blackwell spent his childhood in Jamaica, but was sent to study in England at the age of 10, attending the elite Harrow School. He returned to Jamaica in 1955 and worked a variety of jobs such as renting out motor scooters and teaching water skiing Among his earliest accomplishments in music Blackwell brought back albums from New York to Jamaica supplying local sound systems ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the “Jay” in Vee‐Jay records, was born James Conrad Bracken in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the youngest son of Junious and Eva Bracken, born respectively in Tennessee and Florida. His older brothers, Herbert and Earnest, were also born in Oklahoma. Before 1920, the family moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where Junious Bracken worked as a porter and owned the family home.

Little has been documented about Bracken's childhood or early adult years. He may have attended Western University in Quindaro, Kansas. The Detroit Singers recalled that he had once worked as a parking lot attendant at the Harlem Inn in Detroit. For a time he made a living selling pots and pans, and was employed by the U.S. Signal Corporation. In 1948 Bracken entered into a partnership with radio WGRY disc jockey Vivian Carter, opening Vivian's Record Shop at 1640 Broadway, in Gary, Indiana.

In 1953 Bracken and Carter ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Linda M. Carter

singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger, was born John William Bristol in Morganton, North Carolina, the son of James and Mary Bristol. While in high school, Bristol was named to the All-State Football Team, and he formed a singing group known as the Jackets. After graduating from high school he enlisted in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Bristol and Robert “Jackey” Beavers formed part of the group the High Fives, though soon left to form the duo Johnny and Jackey. In 1959 Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis signed the two young men to their Anna Records label, and Johnny and Jackey recorded two 45s before Gordy and Harvey Fuqua established Tri-Phi Records in 1961 Johnny and Jackey recorded four 45s The duo s songs garnered a modicum of success in the Midwest but failed to ...

Article

Mary Anne Boelcskevy

singer and actor, was born Ada Scott in Kansas City, Kansas, the daughter of H. W. and Anna Morris Scott. (Some scholars list her as being born on 1 May 1889 in Junction City, Kansas.) Nothing is known about her education, except that she began piano lessons at an early age. She also started singing in the local church choir, developing the voice that the historian Bruce Kellner calls “full, rich, and mellow” (Kellner, 55). Indeed, musical ability ran in Brown's family: Her cousin was renowned ragtime pianist and composer James Sylvester Scott.

Brown's professional life began in 1910, when she became a performer at Bob Mott's Pekin Theater in Chicago. Barely out of her teens, Brown also performed in clubs in Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany. In the early 1920s Brown joined Bennie Moten s band which was considered the Midwest s preeminent band During ...

Article

Monica Berger

singer, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, to Joe Brown (né Gardner), a turpentine worker, and Susan Behlings, James Brown experienced extreme poverty in early childhood. His mother left the family when Brown was four. When he was six, he was sent to Augusta, Georgia, to live with an aunt who ran a brothel. In addition to picking cotton and shining shoes, the young Brown earned money by tap-dancing for World War II troops and by singing in talent contests.

As a teenager Brown broke into a car to steal a coat and was sentenced to eight to sixteen years in prison. He served three years and was released in 1953. He then sang in a doo-wop and gospel ensemble headed by Bobby Byrd Brown soon emerged as the lead singer and the band the Fabulous Flames wowed audiences with their dancing ...

Article

Julian C. Madison

athlete, actor, civic activist. Jim Brown is generally recognized as the greatest football player and the greatest lacrosse player of all time. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 228 pounds, and with a 32-inch waist, Brown combined great speed with a powerful running style and fearsome stiff-arm to terrorize National Football League (NFL) defenders for nine years. The only person in history voted into three halls of fame (college football, college lacrosse, and the NFL), Brown is arguably the greatest athlete of the twentieth century.

James Nathaniel Brown was born on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, to Swinton “Sweet Sue” and Theresa Brown Swinton Brown left his family barely two weeks after his son was born and they rarely heard from him afterward When Jim was two his mother left him in the care of his great grandmother and moved to Great Neck Long Island where ...

Article

Shana L. Redmond

pianist and composer, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of Clark Benjamin Brown, himself the son of a former slave. Little is known of Brown's natural mother, who died when Lawrence was three; from then on, he was raised by his stepmother Cenia Brown.

During his youth Brown took music instruction from the well-respected William Riddick. Exhibiting incredible promise, Brown was sent to Boston to receive further instruction in his primary instrument, piano. In addition to scholarships, Brown financed his education in Boston by working as an elevator operator. In 1916 he made his professional music debut as accompanist for the tenor Sydney Woodward. With this exposure Brown caught the eye of other musicians, including the famed tenor Roland Hayes. Brown and Hayes toured abroad from 1918 to 1923 and received great popular acclaim They had many important engagements including a performance for ...

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Shennette Garrett-Scott

the first woman to lead an otherwise all-male orchestra, was the older sister of the well-known bandleader Cab Calloway. Born in Rochester, New York, Blanche and her three younger siblings moved to Baltimore when she was a teenager. She grew up in a comfortably middle-class family; her father, Cabell, was a lawyer and her mother, Martha Eulalia Reed, taught music. Calloway's father died in 1910, and her mother married insurance salesman John Nelson Fortune a few years later and had two more children.

Calloway s mother likely instilled a love of music in all of her children Calloway s brother Elmer also briefly pursued a musical career Martha made sure that young Calloway took piano and voice lessons as a child but Martha never imagined music as a career for a proper young woman She expected that her daughter would pursue a respectable career as a nurse ...

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Ulrich Adelt

rap artist and entrepreneur, was born in Miami Beach, Florida. His father, Stanley Campbell, who emigrated from Jamaica, was a janitor, and his mother, Yvonne Campbell, worked as a beautician. Campbell grew up in the impoverished Liberty City area of Miami and had to share a bedroom with his four brothers. Although his family was relatively stable and able to send his three older brothers to college, Campbell had to learn to survive in a dangerous environment. In a gang-related incident in Campbell's neighborhood, for instance, a fourteen-year-old male shot to death his best friend in 1986. Campbell developed his entrepreneurial skills early on by selling ice cream and lemonade from his mother's kitchen to children from the neighborhood. He went to predominantly white schools on football scholarships and started disc-jockeying for school dances.

Before Campbell became a member of the rap group 2 Live Crew in ...

Article

Hope W. Jackson

also known as Lorene Carter, Lorraine Carter, and Betty Bebop, jazz vocalist, arranger, composer, and musician. Betty Carter was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan, to James Jones II and Bertha Jones. Her father worked as a press operator for the Ford Motor Company, making the family middle class.

Carter s musical influences were varied She sang in her church s choir which her father led Her parents forbade listening to secular music and did not own a record player but Carter listened to her brother in law s jazz albums particularly those of Duke Ellington and to radio jazz programs She cut school to listen to bebop a type of jazz that uses fast tempos and improvisation on local jukeboxes at the time the 1940s bebop was the latest musical craze As a teenager Carter took piano lessons at the ...

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SaFiya D. Hoskins

singer, songwriter, and producer, was born Eugene Dixon in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Baron Dixon, was born in Arkansas. Dixon attended Englewood High School (later known as Englewood Technical Prep Academy) on Chicago's south side. Early on he was influenced by what he considered the cool and romantic singing style of (James) Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels. Patterning himself after Hudson, Dixon soon joined the ranks of youth performing doo-wop music on sidewalks and corners, forming his own group, the Gaytones. In 1957 Dixon was drafted into the United States Army and performed a tour of duty in Germany. Upon discharge from the military, in 1960, he returned to Chicago and resumed his singing career as a new member of the Dukays, a group that included singer Ben Broyles, Earl Edwards, Shirley Jones, and James Lowe.

Soon thereafter the Dukays were offered a contract to record ...