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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 ...


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 ...



Barry Lee Pearson

During the first decade of the twentieth century, a new African American social song form called blues spread throughout the South and along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. This form was similar to other nineteenth-century music, including spirituals, work songs, hollers, ballads, and reels, but the term “blues”—meaning a type of vocal song with instrumental accompaniment for dancing—arose after 1900. Rooted in oral tradition, blues by 1912 had entered popular culture through sheet music. W.C. Handy (1873–1958), one of the first professionally trained musicians to transcribe blues into printed notation and composer of such works as Memphis Blues (1911) and St. Louis Blues (1914), became its first popularizer and spokesperson. In 1920, Crazy Blues by Mamie Smith (1883–1946 convinced the recording industry that selling African American music performed by African American artists to African American consumers could be profitable ...


Peter Gammond

A 19th-century African-American dance. It originated among plantation slaves (c.1850 reputedly to parody the promenades that opened the plantation owners formal balls In the 1890s it became commercial entertainment and it was used for social dancing at the turn of the 20th century The music is a ...


Despite the enormous worldwide impact of American popular music, and particularly of African-American music, it remains difficult to fix a point of origin for musical genres like hip-hop, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, and their blurry nineteenth-century antecedents. But it is not too great a leap of the imagination to assume from these genres, each a variant of its predecessor, that powerful forms of African-American music were performed in the long prehistory before it was possible to record music. What that music sounded like, alas, is nearly impossible to divine, although we can hear fragments of it in the bewildered accounts of European and American travelers, thunderstruck by the fugitive music they occasionally stumbled across in their wanderings.

Perhaps out of frustration with our lack of real knowledge musical historians have often pointed toward a specific place in nineteenth century America that seems to have acted as ...


Curtis Jacobs

was born Edwin Esclus Connor in Mayaro, in the southeast corner of Trinidad on 2 August 1913 into a black family. His mother was a member of the Moravian Archer family of Tobago. His father was from a Roman Catholic Trinidadian family. Both were cast out of their respective families when they decided to marry. The Anglican Church offered sanctuary.

Mayaro was a place of cultural ferment where most of Trinidad s folk art and culture abounded and provided the basis of his career in the performing arts Being born into a musical family Connor was a singer in great demand at concerts by the time he reached his teens His formal education began at ten and at fifteen won a scholarship to the Royal Victoria Institute to study at Port of Spain the capital of Trinidad and Tobago His sister told him You do not belong to us you ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...



Robert H. Gudmestad and Kathleen Thompson

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with dance from the early eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century The first article discusses the transmission of African dance traditions to North America by slaves and the new expressions that arose while the second article discusses the movement of ...


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 ...


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 ...


During the twentieth century, a new form of theater emerged in the eastern African nation of Ethiopia. Fusing local expressive practices with Western performance traditions, Ethiopian theater has been shaped by the shifting political culture of the country. Political authorities have sometimes censored theater and sometimes used it as propaganda, while Ethiopian dramatists have pursued their own goals and sought self-expression.

Theater, as understood in the West, is a fairly new phenomenon in Ethiopia. The first recorded Ethiopian play, a satirical adaptation and translation of the French fables of La Fontaine, was performed before members of the royal court sometime beween 1912 and 1916. Written by Tekle-Hawaryat Tekle-Mariam, it was titled Yawrewoch Komediya (Comedy of the Animals). Political censorship, however, banned all dramatic activity following Yawrewoch Komediya. Not until Haile Selassie I became emperor in 1930 did theater revive During the next five years theater studies ...


Ted Olson

Blacks long struggled against efforts to keep them powerless, and African American folk culture— from before Emancipation (1863) through the Jim Crow and civil rights eras—provided blacks, across the United States and particularly in the South, with a mechanism for confronting white society's power structure and discriminatory legal system. For example, traditional African American ballads and tales inspired blacks both by portraying human heroes, such as John Henry or Shine, who challenged or resisted white authority and by portraying antiheroes, such as the slave John in the “John and the Master” story cycle, who outsmarted white authority. Through modeling themselves on those folk characters, blacks developed a sense of expectation that they might eventually triumph and overcome their marginalized roles.

Historically because of racism and xenophobia white society tended to portray African American folk culture as deficient White scholars acknowledged the British and Anglo American contributions to African ...


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 ...


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 ...


Cherene Sherrard-Johnson

What’s new in Harlem: the air expectant; arrival and departure; the train depot; the brownstones; the shoeshine boys, and the numbers runners; all the players assembled on these storied streets. The drumbeat struck in Harlem echoes in all the cities transformed by the Black Belt’s Great Migration. In the salons, rent parties, jazz clubs, and meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the New Negro Renaissance took its most definitive and impactful shape.

The violent end of Reconstruction the rise of Jim Crow segregation and the shift away from an agricultural economy galvanized black migration on a national and international scale As the global south moved north black Manhattan transformed from a small enclave of colored men and women to a more expansive micro nation of blackness as immigrants from Jamaica Barbados and Trinidad joined those from Mississippi Georgia and North Carolina The regional and ...


David Levering Lewis

Variously known as the New Negro movement, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Negro Renaissance, the Harlem Renaissance emerged toward the end of World War I in 1918, blossomed in the mid- to late 1920s, and then faded in the mid-1930s. The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that main stream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously and that African American literature and arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large. Although it was primarily a literary movement, it was closely related to developments in African American music, theater, art, and politics.


Kathleen Thompson

In the history of art and culture, some periods glow with a light that illuminates all the rest. Whether we talk about the Mauve Decade, Bloomsbury, or Paris in the 1920s, there is a sense that extraordinary personalities and forces somehow coalesced—with the intangible addition of what we call style—in a way that changed the world. The Harlem Renaissance is one of those periods in America, and its effect has yet to be fully explored.

Langston Hughes always believed that the flowering began when Florence Mills took over Broadway in the black musical Shuffle Along in 1921. Within the decade, Ethel Waters would become the highest-paid woman, black or white, on the Broadway stage. Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, and the other great blues queens sold millions of records and created a new style of performance. The Lafayette Players, founded by Anita Bush began to produce serious ...


Amritjit Singh

Known also as the Negro Renaissance or the New Negro movement, this artistic and sociocultural awakening among African-Americans was a national phenomenon, reverberating through many urban centers. Viewed by some scholars as a distinctly African-American experiment in modernism and/or cultural pluralism, it found many outlets, from literature, painting, and sculpture to jazz, dance, and Broadway shows.

Though it peaked in 1923–1929, the movement can be dated from the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, the outbreak of World War I in 1914, or the publication of Claude McKay's poem Harlem Dancer in 1917 to as late as 1937, when Zora Neale Hurston published Their Eyes Were Watching God, or 1940, when Richard Wright's Native Son introduced a harsh new realism into black writing. Politically, it was part of a continuing response—which included the 1905 ...