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Article

Claudia Durst Johnson

Born in Philadelphia, Anderson sang in a church choir and at age nineteen began formal voice training. At twenty-three, she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. She later toured in concert in many European and South American capitals. Her foreign acclaim prompted an invitation to tour in the United States, where for two decades she was in demand as a performer of opera and spirituals. In 1939, because she was an African American, Anderson was barred by the Daughters of the American Revolution from performing in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., an event that exposed the depth of racism in America. Her open-air Lincoln Memorial concert that Easter, arranged by Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, drew an audience of 75,000 and was broadcast nationally. On 7 January 1955 Anderson became the first African American to sing with the ...

Article

Robert Fay

Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the first of three daughters of John Berkeley Anderson, an ice and coal peddler, and Anna D. Anderson, who, although trained as a teacher, took in laundry. Throughout her childhood, Anderson's family was poor. Their financial situation worsened when she was twelve. Her father died because of injuries he received at work. Anderson had an urge to make music from an early age, and she was clearly talented. When she was six years old, she joined the junior choir at the church to which her father belonged, Union Baptist, and became known as the “Baby Contralto.” In addition, she taught herself to play the piano, eventually playing well enough to accompany herself during her singing concerts.

Anderson joined the church s senior choir at age thirteen She began singing professionally and touring during high school to earn money for ...

Article

Scott A. Sandage

Marian Anderson's 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C., marked the symbolic beginning of the civil rights movement. Born to a poor family in Philadelphia, Anderson came to public attention in 1924 as the winner of a New York Philharmonic voice competition. Because the color line impeded American bookings, the contralto studied and performed in Europe for several years. In 1935, the impresario Sol Hurok brought Anderson back for a successful New York concert. Thereafter, she toured the United States as an acclaimed soloist and sang at the White House in 1936. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow the singer to perform at Constitution Hall, stating explicitly that their auditorium was available to “white artists only.” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned from the DAR in protest African American leaders from Howard University and from the NAACP arranged ...

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Mildred Denby Green

When Marian Anderson was just eight years old, her aunt presented her at a fund-raising church program as the “Baby Contralto.” Two years earlier, Anderson had joined the junior choir at the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia. More than anything else, she loved to sing. Music and musical instruments fascinated her at home and in school.

Article

Susan Edwards

opera singer. Marian Anderson was born on 27 February 1897 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first of three daughters born to Anna and John Anderson. Nicknamed the “baby contralto” for her lush, deep voice when she sang in local churches as a child, Anderson fought hard to foster her career in Europe and the United States, and in the process she became an advocate for civil rights in the United States.

When Anderson was twelve years old her father died from a head injury sustained while working at Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. He was thirty-four years old, and his death left his widow, Anna with three young daughters to raise They moved in with Marian s paternal grandparents Anna had been a teacher before she married Marian s father but she was not credentialed in Pennsylvania To keep her family together Anna took in laundry and worked ...

Article

Asli Tekinay

singer and dancer. Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in a poor black neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, was twenty-one years old at the time and worked as a laundry woman. Her father, Eddie Carson a vaudeville drummer left his wife a year after Josephine was born Josephine thus grew up fatherless and in poverty When she was eight years old her mother hired her out to a white woman as a maid From then on Josephine was on her own in life An ambitious and optimistic child she learned to dance in the back streets of Saint Louis She went to the zoo watched kangaroos camels and giraffes and imitated their movements She wanted to be a great dancer and live a glamorous life At the age of twelve she dropped out of school and at thirteen her professional life began ...

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Vivian Njeri Fisher

musician and composer, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Floyd Bartz, a railroad employee and club owner, and Elizabeth E. Bartz, a club owner. Bartz grew up in West Baltimore during an era when the music scene in that city was thriving. The hub of African American entertainment in Baltimore was found on Pennsylvania Avenue, although there were numerous clubs throughout the city owned by African Americans. At the age of six Bartz heard his first Charlie Parker recording at his grandmother s house Bartz recalled this formative moment Not knowing what the music was what the instrument was or who was playing I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard I said right then I want to do whatever that is Ouellette 31 When Bartz was eleven he began to play the alto saxophone influenced to take up the instrument by his love ...

Article

Aldrich W. Adkins

Thomas J. Bowers was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An outstanding young tenor in the mid-nineteenth century, he was compared favorably with the leading world tenors of that day. He was consistently called “Mario,” “the colored Mario,” “the American Mario,” or “the Indian Mario,” after the renowned Italian tenor Conte di Candia Mario.

Bowers's father was the warden of Saint Thomas's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where sacred music was sung as early as 1800. Bower's first music teacher was his pianist brother John, whom he succeeded as the organist at the church. His youngest sister, Sara Sedgwicke Bowers, also became a fine singer. Several bands, including the Frank Johnson Band, eagerly sought his services. It was his outstanding singing that won him public acclaim. His vocal training was received under the tutelage of internationally famous American soprano Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield popularly known as the Black Swan ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

rhythm and blues performer and actress, was born Ruth Alston Weston, in Portsmouth, Virginia, the eldest of Leonard and Martha Jane (Alston) Weston's seven children. Her father, a skillful athlete who had hoped to become a professional baseball player, found work as a laborer on the Portsmouth docks and worked odd jobs at nights. His weekly wages rarely exceeded $35 per week and barely covered the needs of his growing family. Ruth's mother worked as a domestic. In 1934, when she was six years old, Ruth entered Portsmouth's George Peabody Elementary School and later attended I. C. Norcom High School. Her early years were decidedly urban. She was a weekend regular at Portsmouth's Capitol movie theater, where she cheered on the black action heroes Herb Jeffries and Ralph Cooper, and idolized the young Lena Horne.

Ruth Weston belonged however to that generation of urban ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

singer, songwriter, and politician, was one of four children born to J. T. and Alveria Butler, in Sunflower, Mississippi. The Butlers, a Mississippi sharecropping family, moved to Chicago in 1942, where they lived in the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects. J. T. Butler worked a variety of jobs to support his family until his death in 1953, and, following his passing, relatives and friends moved in to help the family make ends meet. Jerry, active in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), soon became known around his community for his musical ability and rich baritone voice, and he quickly began performing as a gospel artist with friends and fellow COGIC members. One of Jerry's friends, a prodigious musician and songwriter named Curtis Mayfield would soon join Butler in a singing group called the Roosters The group subsequently changed its name to the Impressions Signing to Vee Jay Records ...

Article

Christopher Ian Foster

gospel and pop musician, pioneer black record-company owner, and civil rights activist. Samuel Cook [sic] was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to the Reverend Charley Cook and Annie Mae Cook. The musical aspects of his father's preaching deeply influenced Cooke's formative years. According to Mahalia Jackson, a popular gospel singer, the church had a special rhythm retained “from slavery days” (Wolff, p. 21). Clarksdale also was home to Delta blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James. The milieu in which Cooke grew up was musically oriented and deeply religious.

At the age of sixteen Cooke joined the fledgling gospel quartet the Highway QCs, which catalyzed his later initiation into the more widely recognized group the Soul Stirrers. In 1951, with Cooke singing lead, the Soul Stirrers recorded the hit single “Jesus Gave Me Water.” Between 1951 and 1957 the year Cooke ...

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

Robert Todd Duncan was born in Danville, Kentucky. By the time he auditioned for Porgy and Bess creator George Gershwin in 1935, Duncan already held a master's degree from Columbia University and had been a professor of voice at Howard University since 1931. Eschewing the traditional Spirituals that other performers had sung as audition pieces, Duncan sang an obscure Italian aria, and Gershwin offered him the part. Duncan did not immediately accept, however. As a classically trained Opera singer who years later described himself as a “stuffed shirt” and who thought of the popular Gershwin as merely a composer of show tunes, Duncan insisted on first hearing Gershwin's music for the opera. The music convinced Duncan to play Porgy. His performance in the original Broadway production in 1935, as well as in revivals in 1937 and 1942 earned him lasting acclaim from reviewers who considered ...

Article

Lorin Nails-Smoote

educator, administrator, and vocalist, was born in Otsego, Michigan, the youngest of six children of Martha Keith, homemaker, of Greenwood, North Carolina, and Edward Lewis Buchanan, paper mill superintendent and inventor, from Edwards, Mississippi. Edward Buchanan, who had a sixth grade education, rose from sweeper to superintendent and then consultant and trouble-shooter for the paper industry in the United States and the Caribbean. (Mr. Buchanan is credited with an invention, Paper Pulp Consistency Regulators, which changed the manufacture of paper.) In the early 1920s, after being hired by the John Strange Paper Company, he moved his family to Menasha, Wisconsin, where they were the sole black family in the predominantly Polish and German city. Indeed, there were few if any African Americans in the state north of Milwaukee.

Evans grew up in a home that was very supportive of education for women as well as men ...

Article

Courtney Q. Shah

jazz singer. Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia. Her father passed away shortly after she was born, and in the 1920s, her mother and her new boyfriend, Joe Da Silva, moved the family to Yonkers, New York. To help the family, Fitzgerald worked odd jobs, including running errands for gamblers and prostitutes. Her earliest passion was dancing, and she and her friends liked to take the train to Harlem to attend talent shows at the Apollo Theater.

In 1934, Fitzgerald and her friends decided to enter the Apollo talent show themselves. Originally she planned to dance, but after seeing that a popular dance act preceded her turn, she changed her mind and decided to sing. Having heard the music of Louis Armstrong and the Boswell Sisters, Fitzgerald mimicked popular styles with a voice that was perfectly pitched. She sang Hoagy Carmichael's Judy and ...

Article

Crystal Renée Sanders

Baptist minister and community leader. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was born in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Willie Walker and Rachel Pittman Walker, who were sharecroppers. Before 1920, his mother remarried, to Henry Franklin, who subsequently adopted Clarence. Young “C. L.” picked cotton with his parents and three siblings, which prevented him from completing grade school.

In the summer of 1931, Franklin preached his trial sermon at Saint Peter's Rock Missionary Baptist Church. He served as an itinerant minister for several years at churches throughout the Mississippi Delta. On 16 October 1934, Franklin married Alene Gaines, but little is known about the marriage. On 3 June 1936, Franklin married Barbara Vernice Siggers and adopted her young son, Vaughn. To this union were born four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. Aretha became a Grammy Award–winning singer.

Aware of the limited opportunities and ...

Article

Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer, college and music conservatory professor, composer, activist, and genealogist, the youngest of seven children, was born in Columbia, Tennessee, and reared in Louisville, Kentucky, where his family moved in search of suitable employment and better schools. Andrew's mother, Lue Vergia Esters Frierson, was a homemaker. His father, Robert Clinton Frierson, was a laborer.

At age three Frierson first dramatically showcased his musical talent. One afternoon he accompanied his mother to the home of an old family friend where there was a piano. Frierson saw the instrument, went to it, and instinctively began to play recognizable songs. Frierson's mother and her friends were astounded because he had never even seen a piano. By the age of five Frierson was playing all over the town.

After four years of piano study with William King and graduation from high school Frierson went to ...

Article

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack

Born into a poor Russian-Jewish family in Chicago, Benny Goodman studied clarinet at Jane Addams's Hull House. A musical prodigy, he performed professionally at age twelve and in a traveling band at sixteen. As a teenager, Goodman became famous for playing “hot” clarinet solos, improvising like the New Orleans musicians who had invented jazz. Success in studio and radio work led Goodman to form his own touring band in 1935, which received mixed reviews until it played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935. Teenagers who had heard Goodman's broadcasts packed the club, and “swing” music was born. While no one agreed exactly what “swing” was, promoters quickly dubbed Goodman the “King of Swing.” On 16 January 1938 he became the first jazz bandleader to play Carnegie Hall, the country's premier high-culture musical venue.

Goodman was one of the first big name bandleaders ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

musician, activist, author, painter, and sculptor, was born Richard Pierce Havens in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of nine children. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. His father, Richard Havens, worked as a metal plater and dreamed of becoming a professional pianist, eventually learning to play a number of instruments. Richie's mother Mildred a bookbinder and casual singer at home encouraged her young son when he started singing background vocals at the age of twelve for local groups All kinds of music were played in the Havens home Richie s grandmother listened to Yiddish gospel and big band music his mother enjoyed country music and his father loved jazz He joined the doo wop singing group the Five Chances at age fifteen and performed the next year with the Brooklyn McCrea Gospel Singers a group that sang hymns for neighborhood churches Havens ...

Article

Nat Charles

opera singer and human rights advocate, was born Barbara Ann Hendricks in Stephens, Arkansas, one of five children born to Malvin Leon Hendricks, a Christian Methodist Episcopal minister, and Della Mae Graham Hendricks, a teacher. Traveling often to churches where the Reverend Hendricks was assigned, the family eventually settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Barbara Hendricks graduated with honors from Horace Mann High School in 1965.

Although she grew up singing spirituals in church and classical motets in school choirs Hendricks had never envisioned a career in music for herself Rather at the age of sixteen she entered Lane College in Jackson Tennessee where she excelled in math and science and later transferred to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with plans to pursue a career in medicine But when one of the university officials heard her sing at a civic function and recommended she attend ...