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Darshell Silva

oral historian and centenarian, was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who were slaves brought to the United States from Barbados. She was moved to Dunk's Ferry in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when she was ten years old to be with her master, of whom no information is available. There Alice lived as a slave, collecting ferry fares for forty years of her life.

Alice was a spirited and intelligent woman. She loved to hear the Bible read to her, but like most other enslaved people she could not read or write. She also held the truth in high esteem and was considered trustworthy. Her reliable memory served her well throughout her long life.

Many notable people of the time are said to have made her acquaintance like Thomas Story founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane which was the precursor to ...

Article

Debra L. Klein

master bata drummer and broker of Yoruba culture, was born on 6 August 1949 in the town of Erin-Osun in present-day Osun State, Nigeria. Ayankunle was born into a large extended family of traditional bata (double-headed, conically shaped drum ensemble) and dundun (double-headed, hourglass-shaped drum ensemble with tension straps) drummers. His father was Ige Ayansina and his mother was Awero Ayansina. Yoruba drumming lineages train their children in the art and profession of bata and dundun drumming. These families celebrate and worship orisa Ayanagalu (the spirit of the drum). Children born into an Ayan (drum family) lineage are given names beginning with the Ayan prefix, such as Ayankunle.

Passed down from generation to generation bata is a five hundred year old drumming singing and masquerade tradition from southwestern Nigeria The fifteenth century reign of Sango marks the earliest documented use of bata drum ensembles in royal contexts One of the ...

Article

William E. Lightfoot

Piedmont-style guitarist, was born near Collettsville in the African American community of Franklin, an Appalachian hollow not far from the John's River in upper Caldwell County, North Carolina. Her grandfather Alexander Reid and father Boone Reid, both born in Franklin, played the banjo in the old-time clawhammer manner, with Boone going on to become an accomplished musician who also played fiddle, harmonica, and guitar, on which he used a two-finger-style approach. Boone Reid had absorbed many kinds of music of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, including Anglo-American dance tunes, lyric folksongs, ballads, rags, religious music, and published pieces that had drifted into folk tradition—popular Tin Pan Alley songs old minstrel tunes and Victorian parlor music Boone and his wife Sallie who sang instilled their love of music in their eight children a process that led eventually to the formation of a Reid family string band that played after ...

Article

Olusola O. Isola

Nigerian musician and composer, was born on 17 May 1935 in Jos, Plateau State, in the northeast of Nigeria. He is of the Yoruba ethnic group and was born into a family of music teachers and composers. His father, Theophilus Abiodun Bankole, was a prominent organist and choirmaster at Saint Luke’s Anglican Church, Jos. His mother was a music tutor at Queen’s School, Ede (now in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria), one of the elite female secondary schools in Nigeria. She was also an active musician. Bankole’s maternal grandfather, Akinje George, was the organist and choirmaster at the First Baptist Church, Lagos.

In 1941 when Bankole was six years old his father noticed that he had music talent and sent him to live with his grandfather who gave him initial lessons in piano and harmonium As a boy soprano in the choir at Cathedral Church of Christ in Lagos Bankole showed ...

Article

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

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

washboard musician, raconteur, and hobo, was born William Edgar Givens in the sawmill town of Dupont, Florida. His mother ran a “juke joint,” a tavern where the music and the liquor flowed. Little other information about his parents is available. As a boy, Givens would watch the dancing and listen to the music through a hole in the wall of his sleeping room. It was in this manner that he discovered rhythm. He practiced on buckets and pots around the house and gave little shows for his siblings and the neighborhood children.

At a young age, he was adopted by his preacher grandfather, who changed the boy's name to William Edward Cooke. He left his grandfather's home in 1917 and made his way to south Florida, working odd jobs, including clearing land for roads, among these the great Dixie Highway, U.S. 1. In 1931 he took to the ...

Article

Rayford W. Logan

Maude Cuney was born in Galveston, Texas, the daughter of Norris Wright and Adelina (Dowdy) Cuney. After graduation from the Central High School, Galveston, she received a musical education at the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Massachusetts. Later she studied under private instructors such as Emil Ludwig, a pupil of Russian pianist and composer Anton Grigoryevich Rubinstein, and Edwin Klare, a pupil of Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt. She then served for a number of years as director of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute of Texas and at Prairie State College in Prairie View, Texas. In 1906 she returned to Boston and married William P. Hare, who came from an old and well-known Boston family. She died there in 1936 and was buried in Galveston in the grave between her father and mother in Lake View Cemetery (Houston Informer ...

Article

Lynda Koolish

Maud Cuney-Hare is remembered for her literary accomplishments as a gifted playwright, biographer, and music columnist for the Crisis. Born in Galveston, Texas, on 16 February 1874, to teacher and soprano Adelina Dowdie and Norris Wright Cuney, an important Texas political figure who was the (defeated) Republican candidate for the 1875 Galveston mayoral race, Maud Cuney-Hare was educated in Texas and became musical director at the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute in Austin, Texas. She held other church and college teaching positions before returning to Boston and devoting her life to performance, scholarship, and literary pursuits. She championed the 24 May 1917 Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaging of Angelina Weld Grimké's Rachel (1916), which, according to critic Robert Fehrenbach was the first time a play written by an Afro American that dealt with the real problems facing American Blacks in contemporary white racist society was ...

Article

Nate Plageman

Nigerian musician and juju pioneer, was born in Offa, Kwara State, Nigeria. His father, a carpenter for the Nigerian Railways Corporation, enrolled Dairo in a Church Missionary Society primary school in Offa. After two years, financial strain forced Dairo to abandon his studies and return to Ijebu-Ijesa, where he took up work as a barber despite his young age. After leaving school, Dairo developed a keen interest in juju, a genre of popular music that originated among the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria. Early juju musicians fused elements from local music (including oriki or Yoruba praise songs), popular percussive styles, and palm-wine guitar music together into a new form that emphasized choral singing and call-and-response vocal phrasing. At the time of Dairo’s childhood in the 1930s and 1940s, juju ensembles performed in a range of settings and had broad appeal but their members found themselves subject to ...

Article

Heather A. Maxwell

master Mande musician of the kora, was born on 10 August 1965, in Bamako, the capital of Mali; his father was Sidiki Diabaté (c. 1922–1996) and his mother was Nene Koita. Known as one of the most versatile and creative kora players of his generation, Grammy Award–winner Toumani is also widely recognized as the best kora player of his generation. He is also credited for combining the kora with modern electronic instruments and ensembles, galvanizing it as an instrument of choice in world music.

The kora is a melodic twenty-one-string, calabash harp unique to the Mande region in West Africa. It is exclusively played by a few patronymic groups of the hereditary jeli endogamous group (griot in French The Diabatés are one of the most prestigious families associated with the kora Toumani s ancestors trace back to the royal courts of the thirteenth century during the time ...

Article

Felicia A. Chenier

black theater organizer, writer, director, folklorist, chorographer, and educator, was born in Houston, Texas, the only daughter of Gerthyl Rae and Harvey G. Dickerson, an army officer. As a military child Dickerson traveled extensively with her parents and brother, Harvey. After graduating high school in Syracuse, New York, Dickerson studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there she studied theater and was mentored by noted educator and writer Owen Dodson, who was then the Drama Department chair. Noteworthy of her experiences at Howard is her discovery of writings by Zora Neale Hurston. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) from Howard in 1966, Dickerson received a master of fine arts (MFA) from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, in 1968 During the same year she returned to Howard as an assistant professor of drama and staged her directorial ...

Article

Vèvè A. Clark

Dunham, who is best known for choreography based on African-American, Caribbean, West African, and South American sources, began her dance career in Chicago with the Little Theatre Company of Harper Avenue. That experience was followed by study with Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page of the Chicago Civic Opera. Dunham's other primary influence during this period was Ludmilla Speranzeva, a Kamerny-trained modern dancer from Russia, whose teaching put equal emphasis on both dance and acting technique. She worked as well with Vera Mirova, a specialist in “Oriental” dance.

Out of her work with Turbyfill and Page, Dunham conceived the idea for a ballet nègre, and she later founded the Negro Dance Group in 1934; the group performed Dunham's Negro Rhapsody at the Chicago Beaux Arts Ball, and Dunham herself made a solo performance in Page's La Guiablesse at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1931 While enrolled ...

Article

USdancer, teacher, choreographer, and director who helped establish African-American dance as an international theatre form. She studied anthropology, specializing in dance at the University of Chicago, and took dance classes locally, making her major professional debut in Page's La Guillablesse in 1933. After a period of dance research in the West Indies (1937–8) she returned to Chicago to work for the Federal Theatre Project, and was then appointed director of dance for the New York Labor Stage in 1939, choreographing movement for plays and musicals. In 1940 she presented her own programme of work, Tropics and Le Jazz Hot—from Haiti to Harlem, with a specially assembled company. This launched her career as a choreographer. In the same year she and her company danced in the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky (chor. Balanchine after which she moved to Hollywood to ...

Article

Rebecca M. Bodenheimer

was born in Havana on 5 August 1900. Her full family background is unknown, but she was born to parents Nicolás and Francisca in Pueblo Nuevo, a largely black neighborhood of Havana. She was raised in a housing complex named El Africa, surrounded not only by the heavy presence of Afro-Cuban religion, but by negros de nación (African-born blacks who had been brought to Cuba as slaves; Cuba imported slaves up until the 1860s and did not formally abolish the practice until 1886). It was due to her upbringing, immersed in African-derived music, dance, and religion, that Fresneda would eventually serve as a principal informant to folklorists and scholars, including preeminent anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, seeking to document and preserve these cultural practices.

Before the 1959 Cuban Revolution there were very few professional Afro Cuban folkloric musicians and dancers and Fresneda worked in various service occupations for many ...

Article

Terza Silva Lima-Neves

traditional singer of finaçon and Cape Verdean cultural icon, was born Maria Inácia Gomes Correia on Santiago Island, Cape Verde, on 18 July 1925. Nácia Gomes, also known as “Nha Nácia Gomi” (Mrs. Nacia Gomes), was one of twelve children. Gomes and her siblings were raised as strict followers of the Catholic Church. Gomes never received a formal education as a child and did not know how to read and write. Between the ages of ten and twelve years, she began singing a genre of Cape Verdean music based on African traditions, common to the island of Santiago. The singers of finaçon, generally women, known as finaderas, improvised verses about village events; celebrated farming festivals, births, marriages, saints’ days, and christenings; and commemorated deaths. Finaçon is often performed as a competitive song duel which is highly rhythmic and entertaining It also features one person who performs ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

zydeco accordionist, band leader, and singer, was born Ida Lewis in Lake Charles, Louisiana, into a French-speaking family of rice farmers and musicians. Zydeco, from the French les haricots or “snap beans,” is the music of Creole people from southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. Ida was the fourth of seven children born to Ben Lewis, a harmonica player, and Elvina Broussard Lewis, an accordionist. Ida's mother taught her to play the accordion, while insisting it was “not a very lady-like instrument” (Ida Lewis Guillory, cited in DeWitt, p. 73) and a woman could only play at home for herself. Ida seldom heard other women musicians, except church singers.

At the local segregated one-room schoolhouse, Ida quickly learned English because students were punished for speaking Creole. During her second-grade year, her family moved to Beaumont, Texas, in search of better-paying work. In 1947 ...

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

Leyla Keough

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Judith Jamison started dancing at the age of six at the Judimar School of Dance. At seventeen, she left to study psychology at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. After three semesters, she returned to Philadelphia to continue her dance training at the Philadelphia Dance Company (now University of Arts).

After a 1964 appearance with Agnes de Mille's dance troupe in New York, Jamison joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT) in 1965. Because of this company's financial difficulties, she danced with the Harkness Ballet for the 1966 season. But in 1967 she returned to AAADT to become its premier dancer. With this company she toured the world, dancing in Cry (1971), her signature dance, which Ailey choreographed to honor the strength and dignity of African American women. For her performances, she won an award from Dance Magazine in 1972 ...

Article

Karen R. Bloom

Julius Lester was born on 27 January 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Woodie Daniel Lester and Julia B. Smith Lester. He received his BA from Fisk University in 1960, with a semester at San Diego State College, and an MA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1971, where he is currently a professor. He is married to his second wife and has four children. Lester has won the Newbery Honor Award (1969) and the Massachusetts State Professor of the Year Award (1986), and was a finalist for the National Book Award (1972) and the National Jewish Book Award (1988). Lester converted to Judaism in 1982.

Julius Lester s literary career has spanned a broad variety of political events and literary genres Lester began his career as an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating ...