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André Willis

Born Julian Edwin Adderley in Tampa, Florida, Adderley earned the nickname “Cannonball,” a corruption of “cannibal,” for his huge appetite. Adderley was introduced to music by his father, a cornetist, and was performing in bands by the time he was fourteen. He played in local bands as well as in the United States Army (he enlisted in 1950) and taught music before moving to New York to join his brother Nat in 1955. He immediately found success on the New York Jazz scene, joining the bands of bassist Oscar Pettiford.

The recordings Adderley made with Davis, which included John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Paul Chambers on bass, and Wynton Kelly on piano, are some of the most celebrated of the 1950s. In 1959 Adderley and his brother Nat formed their own quintet and built on the influence of Davis and saxophonist Charlie Parker During ...

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Jerry C. Waters

an interdisciplinary artist and musician, was born Terry Roger Adkins in Washington, D.C., the eldest of five children of Robert Hamilton Adkins, a teacher and a musician, and Doris Jackson Adkins, a homemaker and musician. Adkins was raised in Alexandria, Virginia.

The artistic and musical achievements of Terry Adkins are linked to his formative years. Born in the racially segregated South, he attended a predominantly black primary school in Alexandria, Virginia, and graduated in 1971 from Ascension Academy a mostly white Catholic high school Adkins s parents encouraged his artistic talents and academic pursuits because education was valued within the extended Adkins family His father Robert Hamilton Adkins was a chemistry and science teacher at Parker Gray High School a predominantly black school in Alexandria and performed within the community as an organist and vocalist Adkins s grandfather the Reverend Andrew Warren Adkins pastored Alfred Street Baptist ...

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Aaron Myers

Alvin Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas. He grew up in a single-parent household headed by his mother, Lula Elizabeth Cooper. As a boy, he helped her pick cotton. In 1942 they moved to Los Angeles, California, where she found employment in the World War II aircraft industry. Ailey attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and Jefferson High School, primarily black schools. He went on to study literature at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Ailey's dancing career started in 1949 when a high school friend, Carmen DeLavallade, introduced him to Lester Horton, his first dance instructor at the Lester Horton Dance Theater. When Horton died in 1953, Ailey became the director of the company. The following year, Ailey moved to New York City where he joined DeLavallade in the Broadway dance production House of Flowers While appearing in other stage ...

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Lili Cockerille Livingston

actor, dancer, and choreographer, was born in Rogers, Texas, the son of Alvin Ailey, a laborer, and Lula Elizabeth Cliff, a cotton picker and domestic. Before Ailey was a year old, his father abandoned the family, leaving them homeless for close to six years. During that time Ailey and his mother made their way, often by foot, across the unforgiving terrain of the impoverished and bitterly racist Brazos Valley in southeastern Texas to seek shelter with relatives and find work in nearby fields.A bright curious child Ailey joined his mother in the cotton fields as soon as he could carry a sack He reveled in the sights and sounds of the gospel choirs and worshipers that he witnessed in the black Baptist churches of his youth Ailey also became acquainted with the less pious side of life through those who spent Saturday nights dancing ...

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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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Shennette Garrett-Scott

cabaret and vaudeville singer and performer, was born Eliza May (or Mae) Alix in Chicago, Illinois, to Rossetta (or Rasetta) Hayes and Ernest Alix; her parents’ occupations are not known. When Alix was a teenager, her mother remarried; it is not known if Alix's father died or if her parents divorced. Alix lived with her mother; stepfather, Arthur Davis; older sister, Josephine Alix; and younger stepsister, Ellen Davis, in Chicago.

Alix probably began her career singing and performing in chorus lines and local shows. By the early 1920s, she had already established a modest local name for herself when jazz clarinetist and bandleader Jimmie Noone took notice of her in 1921 She continued her collaboration with Noone s Apex Club Orchestra for a series of recordings for Vocalion Records in the late 1920s and early 1930s including recordings of My Daddy Rocks Me and Birmingham Bertha a song ...

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Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

for the famed ska group, the Skatalites, was born in Havana, Cuba, to a Cuban father and Jamaican mother. His birthplace is sometimes given as Clarendon, Jamaica, where the family moved in 1933. When Jamaican authorities deported Alphonso’s father shortly thereafter, Alphonso remained on the island with his mother. He apparently spent some time at Stony Hill Industrial School, a reform institution for destitute youths. While at the Alpha Boys Catholic School in Kingston, Alphonso learned to play marching drums, then progressed to the trumpet. His mother bought him his first saxophone when he was fifteen.

After leaving school, Alphonso earned a living by playing his alto saxophone in hotels for tourists. Ranked as one of the nation’s best saxophonists by the early 1950s, he played with a number of prominent Jamaican jazz bands, including Redvert Cook’s Orchestra and Eric Dean’s Band. He made his first record in 1954 ...

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Maria Stilson

actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...

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The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.

Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...

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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 ...

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Antoinette Handy

contralto, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Berkeley Anderson, a refrigerator room employee at the Reading Terminal Market, an ice and coal dealer, and a barber, and Anne (also seen as “Annie” and “Anna,” maiden name unknown), a former schoolteacher. John Anderson's various jobs provided only a meager income and after his death before Marian was a teenager her mother s income as a laundress and laborer at Wanamaker s Department Store was even less Still as Anderson later recalled neither she nor her two younger sisters thought of themselves as poor When Marian was about eight her father purchased a piano from his brother she proceeded to teach herself how to play it and became good enough to accompany herself Also as a youngster having seen a violin in a pawnshop window she became determined to purchase it and earned the requisite four dollars by ...

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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.

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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 ...

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Jack Sohmer

jazz pianist, composer, and singer, was born Lillian Hardin in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Dempsey Hardin, a strict, churchgoing woman who disapproved of blues music. Nothing is known of her father. At age six Lil began playing organ at home, and at eight she started studying piano. In 1914 she enrolled in the music school of Fisk University in Nashville, taking academic courses and studying piano and music theory. After earning her diploma, around 1917 she joined her mother in Chicago, where she found work demonstrating songs in Jones' Music Store. Prompted by her employer, in 1918 Hardin became house pianist for the clarinetist Lawrence Duhé's band at Bill Bottoms's Dreamland Ballroom, where she played with the cornetists “Sugar Johnny” Smith, Freddie Keppard, and King Oliver; the trombonist Roy Palmer; and other New Orleans musicians Because she was still a minor her mother ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Armstrong's career as a Jazz musician began with a job in a music store in Chicago, Illinois. She met Louis Armstrong while they were both with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. They married in 1924 and divorced in 1938 Armstrong worked with her husband in the ...

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Lil Hardin Armstrong is one of the great treasures of American jazz. In a day when women in music were the singers, Hardin played the piano, composed, arranged, and managed—both her own career and that of her husband Louis Armstrong. Uncredited for many years, happily she has begun to gain some well-deserved attention.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Lillian Beatrice Hardin was the daughter of Dempsey Martin and William Hardin Reports differ on whether Hardin s parents divorced or whether her father died when she was young but it is known that Hardin was raised by her mother and her maternal grandmother in a strictly religious household Hardin was attracted to music almost from birth and began playing the organ when she was very young By the time she was six her mother had arranged that she take additional piano lessons from her schoolteacher and by nine she ...

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Karl Rodabaugh

jazz cornet player, trumpeter, and vocalist. Louis Armstrong's musical style and charismatic personality transformed jazz from a “raucous” and “vulgar” regional form of dance music into an internationally beloved popular art form. Also known as “Satchel-mouth” and “Pops,” Armstrong first gained renown as an innovative cornet player and trumpeter whose creative energy helped bring about the movement of jazz into swing in the 1920s. But he also achieved fame as a vocalist whose distinctive style, including some specific features identified as “Afro-American,” influenced scores of jazz singers and thus played a significant role in shaping popular music of the twentieth century.

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Frank Tirro

jazz trumpeter and singer, known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother's care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence‐torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden when he was about age five, this incident may be apocryphal. As a child, he worked odd jobs, sang in a vocal quartet, and around 1911 bought a ...