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Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

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Ethan R. Sanders

intellectual, pan-African thinker, educator, and Christian preacher, was born in Anomabo, Gold Coast (now Ghana) on 18 October 1875. His father was Kodwo Kwegyir (1816–1896) of the Fante people who was the Omankyiame or hereditary spokesman for the paramount chief of Anomabo, and his mother was Abna Andua, scion of a chiefly family. At the age of eight, Aggrey left his home to attend the Methodist school in Cape Coast. In 1890 he started teaching in a rural village school and the following year returned to Cape Coast to become an assistant teacher at the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School where he soon advanced to a senior position At this early stage in his life Aggrey became interested in Christian ministry He began preaching at sixteen and later assisted in the translation of a Fante language New Testament During this time Aggrey also became involved with the ...

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David Dabydeen

Africanjournalist and nationalist born in Egypt of Egyptian and Sudanese parentage. At the age of 9 or 10 Ali was sent to England to be educated. He never returned to Egypt and spent most of his time between 1883 and 1921 living in Britain. During this period, he was poverty‐stricken, attempting to earn a living through his pen and tour acting. Ali published Land of the Pharaohs in 1911, an anti‐imperialist book that became a significant contribution to the decolonization efforts in the United States and West Africa.

In 1912Ali and John Eldred Taylor, a journalist from Sierra Leone, inaugurated the African Times and Orient Review (1912–20), a magazine that sought to deal with anti‐colonial issues that not merely embraced Pan‐African matters, but incorporated Pan‐Oriental topics as well. The journal was inspired by the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911 which advocated ...

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Sharon Ahcar

for the preservation of Afro-Colombian culture, was born Walter Nilson Aterhotúa Castillo on 9 June 1966 in Tumaco, in the department Nariño in the Southwest of Colombia’s Pacific Region. He is the son of Justo Atehortúa and Carolina Castillo. His parents separated when he was 4 years old, so he grew up between two cultures on the Pacific coast, the paisa culture of the department of Antioquia and the tumaqueña of Tumaco, which allowed him to have a unique perspective on life.

As an adolescent he moved to the city of Pasto (capital of Nariño), where he studied dance and theater at the Universidad de Nariño. He graduated from the Universidad Central in the late 1980s with a degree in social communications and journalism, where his thesis “El movimiento social afrocolombiano” (The Social Afro-Colombian Movement) highlighted his early thinking about issues of race.

Atehortúa then returned to Tumaco to work ...

Article

Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

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Patrick O'Connor

Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921.

Josephine Baker like many other African ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Etta Moten was born in San Antonio, Texas. The daughter of a minister, she married at age 17 and had three children before divorcing six years later. After her marriage ended, Barnett attended the University of Kansas and in 1931 received a B.F.A. degree in music. Her senior college recital led to an invitation to join the Eva Jessye Choir in New York City.

In New York Barnett appeared in the Broadway musicals Fast and Furious (1931), Zombie (1932), Sugar Hill (1932), and Lysistrata (1933). She also sang on the soundtracks of several motion pictures and appeared in the movies Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Flying Down to Rio (1934).

In 1934 she married the founder of the Associated Negro Press (ANP), Claude Barnett During the next several years Etta Moten Barnett gave concerts ...

Article

Luca Prono

lyric coloratura soprano, was the youngest of seven children born in Portsmouth, Ohio, to Grady Battle, a steelworker from Alabama who belonged to a gospel quartet, and Ollie Layne Battle. Together with her six older siblings, Kathleen Deanna Battle experienced the gospel music of her African Methodist Episcopal Church from a very early age. Battle studied at Portsmouth High School with Charles Varney and began piano lessons at the age of twelve.

She considered using her National Achievement Scholarship, which she was awarded in 1966, to study mathematics at the University of Cincinnati, but she graduated instead from the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music with a degree in music education in 1970 The following year Battle received a master s degree from the same institution After graduation Battle worked as a music teacher for fifth and sixth graders in a Cincinnati inner city school for two ...

Article

Harry Belafonte may be best known to audiences in the United States as the singer of the “Banana Boat Song” (known popularly as “Day-O”). However, it is his commitment to political causes that inspired scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to observe: “Harry Belafonte was radical long before it was chic and remained so long after it wasn't.” Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, to West Indian parents. The family moved to Jamaica in 1935 but returned five years later. Struggling with dyslexia, Belafonte dropped out of high school after the ninth grade and, at the age of seventeen, joined the U.S. Navy. The work was menial: scrubbing the decks of ships in port during World War II. Naval service, however, introduced Belafonte to African Americans who awakened his political consciousness and introduced him to the works of radical black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois.

In ...

Article

Ronald M. Radano

(b New York, March 1, 1927). American popular singer and actor. He lived in Kingston, Jamaica, for five years (1935–40), returning to New York in 1940. In 1945 he began a career as an actor, having studied in Erwin Piscator’s drama workshop at the New School of Social Research. He experienced greater commercial success, however, as a popular singer, making his début at the Royal Roost, New York, in 1949. The following year he rejected his popular song repertory and began to sing traditional melodies from Africa, Asia, America and the Caribbean, which he collected in folk music archives. Having secured an RCA recording contract in 1952, Belafonte went on to become the most popular ‘folk’ singer in the USA. His interpretations of Trinidadian calypso music between 1957 and 1959 won him his greatest success and marked the pinnacle of ...

Article

Chris Bebenek

singer, actor, activist, and producer, was born Harold George Belafonte Jr. in Harlem in New York City, the son of Harold George Belafonte Sr., a seaman, and Melvine Love, a domestic worker. Belafonte Sr. was an alcoholic who contributed little to family life, other than occasionally hitting his spouse, and the young Harry was brought up almost exclusively by his mother. Harold and Melvine, who were both from the Caribbean, had a difficult time adjusting to life in New York, and after the Harlem race riots of 1935 Melvine and her son moved to her native Jamaica where Harry spent five years shielded from American racism When World War II broke out the Belafontes returned to Harlem Hoping for better conditions the family would often try to pass for white With white relatives on both the mother s and father s sides they were ...

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Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes

singer, actor, activist, and humanitarian. Harold George Belafonte was born in New York City to Harold George Belafonte Sr., a native of Martinique, and Melvine Love Belafonte, who was from Jamaica. Melvine Belafonte moved her family back to Jamaica in 1935 after rioting broke out in Harlem. Young Harry lived in the Blue Mountains, Saint Anne's Bay, and Kingston before returning to Harlem in 1940. Belafonte, who suffered from dyslexia, dropped out of school in the ninth grade and joined the U.S. Navy in 1944.

The seeds of Belafonte s humanitarian social and political activism began to bloom during his military service His experiences performing the servile jobs assigned to enlisted blacks were eye opening His stint on active duty further shaped his views on freedom and eventually found expression in his music and his causes While in the navy he met a group ...

Article

Shivohn N. García

was born on 2 February 1899 in Cidra, Puerto Rico, to Felipe Belpré and Carlota Nogueras. Belpré’s passion for stories and her desire to share the culture of Puerto Rico through storytelling and children’s literature can be traced to her childhood. In an unpublished autobiographical essay, she mused that “growing up on the island of Puerto Rico in an atmosphere of natural storytellers was fun: a father whose occupation took him all over the island; a grandmother whose stories always ended with a nonsense rhyme or song, setting feet to jump, skip, or dance; elder sisters who still remembered tales told by a mother; and finally, a stepmother whose literary taste was universal” (Pura Teresa Belpré Papers, hereafter PBP). As Belpré reached adulthood, Puerto Rico was undergoing a dramatic change: in 1917 the Jones Shafroth Act bestowed US citizenship on Puerto Ricans which triggered a migration from the island ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

activist and performer, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, one of three children born to John and Mary Betsch, both of whom worked for the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. The family was both well off and well known. Indeed, much of the Betsch family history can be traced through the important civil rights developments in the state of Florida. Her family was among the first black millionaires in the state. Of particular significance to MaVynee's life was the influence of her great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who in the early 1930s founded American Beach, one of the only beach resorts and, eventually for African Americans, among the only available oceanfront properties in the state. It was in service of American Beach and its legacy that Betsch would spend most of her adult life and for which she became famous.

MaVynee s upbringing was steeped in both education and music ...

Article

Cyril Daddieh

Ivorian reggae music star, was born in Dimbokro on 1 January 1953 to a Muslim mother and a Christian father. The oldest of nine children, he was named Seydou Koné, after his grandfather, and brought up by his grandmother, Cheri Coco, in the Muslim faith. Early signs of rebelliousness prompted his exasperated grandmother to call him “blondy,” an apparent mispronunciation of “bandit” (troublemaker). Reunited with his father in Odienné in 1962, young Blondy spent the next ten years attending Saint Elisabeth High School, where he became involved in student politics and also developed an interest in music. Expelled from school for an altercation with his math teacher, Blondy went to Monrovia, Liberia, to study English. He proceeded to the United States, settled in New York in 1973 and enrolled first in Hunter College and later in the Columbia University s American Language Program to pursue a career as ...

Article

Nicolás Fernández Bravo

founder of the association “A Turma da Bahiana” of Buenos Aires, was born on 9 September 1948 in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. She is the daughter of Ercilia Francisca de Paula, a housewife, and Joaquín Assumpção da Boa Morte. She attended high school in Brazil, and began her interest in theater and music when still in high school. She is the mother of five daughters, one born in Brazil, another in Uruguay, and three in Argentina, and she has two grandchildren.

In 1971 Boa Morte traveled for two months to the former Soviet Union, representing Brazil as a member of a folkloric ballet called Karkará, an event that would significantly affect her life. As part of a similar desire to promote Brazilian culture overseas, she later traveled with the guitarist Nelson Gilles to familiarize herself with Buenos Aires, where she arrived in September 1971 There she fought ...

Article

Gordon Root

Ignacio Villa, known by his stage name, Bola de Nieve, was born and grew up in a poor neighborhood in Guanabacoa, Cuba. His parents introduced him to Afro-Cuban music when he was a child, and he was exposed to European classical music in his formal studies. His classical training began when he studied privately with Gerado Guanche. Later Villa enrolled in the Conservatorio de José Mateu, where he studied mandolin and flute as well as piano.

At home Villa absorbed many elements of traditional Afro-Cuban music through his contact with Rumba and other rhythms and dances. It has been suggested that his parents participated in African-based religions and that young Ignacio had been educated in the music and practices of Afro-Cuban religion as well.

As a boy Villa helped support his family by performing in house for neighborhood audiences His professional career began in the 1920s ...

Article

Born in Brooklyn, New York, St. Clair Bourne is the son of St. Clair Bourne Sr., who was an editor of the Amsterdam News and a reporter for the People's Voice in the 1930s. Although the younger Bourne began his education at Georgetown University in 1961, he was expelled for student activism. In 1967 he received a B.A. degree from Syracuse University after working with the Peace Corps. He began a degree in filmmaking at Columbia University in 1968, but was again asked to leave because of his political activities.

From 1968 until 1970 Bourne was a producer, writer, and director for the public-television series Black Journal. He established his own company, Chamba Productions, and produced African American documentary films such as Something to Build On (1971) and Let the Church Say Amen! (1973). In 1974 he received the Bronze ...

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

Malaika B. Horne

activist, lawyer, politician, talk show host, and actor. Willie Lewis Brown Jr. was born in the East Texas town of Mineola to Minnie Collins Boyd and Willie Lewis Brown Sr. during the grinding poverty of the Great Depression. His grandmother Anna Lee Collins primarily raised Brown, his brother, and his three sisters. Racial oppression and extreme violence created even greater dangers and hardships for Brown's family as for many black families during the era. Affectionately called “Brookie” during his childhood, Brown performed such menial labor as picking cotton and shining shoes, yet his family's ingenuity helped overcome much of the abject poverty that most experienced. His enterprising family, including bootleggers and gamblers, greatly influenced him, particularly his strong people skills.

As a teenager Brown was gregarious and outspoken His grandmother feared for his life so hostile were whites to any kind of black self assertion ...