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Jessica C. Hajek

was born Frantz Fontaine on 10 November 1945 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Siméon Benjamin, an artist and leader of the folkloric dance group Troupe Aïda, and Stael Fontaine, known as Yèyelle. Siméon never married Benjamin’s mother, and the boy was coparented by Yèyelle and two of her cousins, Aline Macombe and Aline’s brother, the pastor Anthony D. Macombe, whom Benjamin referred to as “mother” and “father.” While his birth mother worked in the United States to pay for her son’s education, Benjamin remained behind in Port-au-Prince, where he attended the prestigious Saint-Louis de Gonzaque primary school in the downtown area of the capital. Siméon officially recognized Frantz, already 10 years old, as his son, and a name change from Frantz Fontaine to Lionel S. Benjamin soon followed.

As a child Benjamin took an early interest in music and sometimes tapped out drum rhythms on the hood of a 1940s Ford ...

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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 ...

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Malinda Williams

poet, short story writer, mythologist, and folklorist, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Cornelius A. Bennett, a baker, and Kerene Robinson Bennett, a seamstress. Bennett's father died when she was just seven years old, leaving her mother to support the family. Bennett received a typical colonial education at St. Simon's College (1933–1936) and Excelsior High School (1936–1938), which greatly influenced her later interest in elevating and legitimizing traditional Jamaican culture. Though in high school Bennett began writing poetry in English, she later switched to writing in West Indian English, which linguists would eventually come to recognize as a language rather than just a dialect.

Bennett also began performing versions of her poems to audiences in high school and her success caught the attention of Eric Coverley who would later become Bennett s husband Coverley a draftsman and impresario organized a popular Christmas concert ...

Article

Robyn McGee

journalist, radio broadcaster, and founder of Calvin's News Service, was born in Washington,-Arkansas, to Joseph Edward and Hattie Ann (Mitchell). Calvin attended the Rural School in Clow, Arkansas, until the seventh grade. From 1916 to 1920 he attended Shover State Teacher Training College in Arkansas, and from 1920 to 1921 he was enrolled at Townsend Harris Hall, City College in New York City.

In 1922, shortly after leaving City College, Calvin was hired by the labor activist A. Philip Randolph as the associate editor of The Messenger magazine. The Messenger—the third most popular magazine of the Harlem Renaissance, after The Crisis and Opportunity—had been founded in 1917 by Randolph and the economist Chandler Owen to advance the cause of socialism to the black masses. They believed that a socialist society was the only one that would be free from racism. The Messenger contained poetry stories and ...

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Amilcar Priestley

was born in the predominantly Afro-descendant community of Chincha, Peru. Some sources give her birth year as 1984. She holds a degree in journalism from the National University of San Marcos in Peru, and received her degree in political journalism and cultural analysis from the University of Antonio Ruiz Montoya in Lima. She has also studied international law and human rights at the University of Oxford in England. She came to prominence in the first decade of the twenty-first century as the leader of a new generation of Afro-Peruvian activists and as the founder, in 2001, of the LUNDU Center for Afro-Peruvian Studies and Advancement.

As leader of LUNDU, Carrillo was part of the Peruvian delegation that attended the 2001 World Conference against Racism Racial Discrimination Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban South Africa While at the conference she helped to draft the Youth Declaration Against Racism ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Born in New York City, Diahann Carroll grew up in a comfortable, middle-class home. She began singing in a church choir for children at age six, and won a music scholarship sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera when she was ten. Carroll's mother, who often took her to Broadway musicals and other performances, encouraged her to apply to New York's High School of Music and Art, which accepted her.

Carroll, who had been born Carol Diahann Johnson, took her professional name at sixteen when she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Search, a television showcase for aspiring performers. Despite her parents' wish that she attend Howard University—she had earned money for college by modeling for Ebony magazine Carroll stayed in New York She left college after one semester at New York University to accept a long term nightclub engagement Soon thereafter Carroll went on the road ...

Article

Casey McKittrick

singer and actress, was born Carol Diahann Johnson in the Bronx, New York, the elder daughter of John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mable, a nurse. Carroll, who had a younger sister Lydia, began performing at an early age in school plays and as a “tiny tot” in the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir of Harlem. At age ten she won a scholarship for voice lessons at the Metropolitan Opera and later attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan alongside Billy Dee Williams.

At the age of 15, Carroll began modeling clothes for Ebony magazine. Although she enrolled at New York University to study sociology, her passion for vocal performance won out. In her early college years she won a weekly televised talent competition called Chance of a Lifetime for three consecutive weeks This national recognition spurred her bookings in New York venues beginning in ...

Article

Hilary Mac Austin

Diahann Carroll was only six when she joined the Tiny Tots choir at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Her life appears to have been a nonstop rollercoaster ride ever since. As she said in Diahann: An Autobiography, “All I ever wanted to do was sing. What happened was more.”

Carroll grew up in Harlem, New York, although she was born in the Bronx as Carol Diann Johnson. Her parents were John and Mabel Faulk Johnson. She has one sister, Lydia, thirteen years younger. Her father was a subway conductor, and her mother, who trained as a nurse, stayed at home to raise her daughters. The household, while not wealthy, was solidly middle class.

At the age of ten, Carroll won a music scholarship through an organization affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera. At fourteen, she got her first modeling job with Ebony magazine and by the age of ...

Article

Courtney Q. Shah

singer and actress. Carol Diahann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York. As a teenager she performed as a nightclub singer and a model while attending the famous New York High School of Music and Art. She made her film debut in 1954 in Carmen Jones, working with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Paired again with Dandridge, Carroll had a role in Porgy and Bess (1959). Film and television appearances continued, including an Emmy nomination in 1963 for her work in the crime drama Naked City.

In 1968 Carroll made television history by becoming the first black actress to star in her own series. NBC's Julia received both popular praise and critical acclaim, and Carroll received an Emmy nomination in its first year. Generations of African American performers remember Carroll's Julia as a turning point providing inspiration that roles for black actors ...

Article

Steven J. Niven and Kirsten Condry

puppeteer, children's entertainer, and voice of Elmo on public television's Sesame Street, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the third of four children of George Clash, a flash welder operator, and Gladys Clash, a daycare provider. Clash grew up in Turner Station, Maryland, a mainly black, working-class, semirural community on Chesapeake Bay, ten miles from downtown Baltimore.

His interest in puppetry and in entertaining children began at an early age. He learned to understand children from living with his mother, who provided daycare in her own home. Clash observed children at close quarters and eventually learned how to entertain them. As a six-year-old, he became fascinated with children's puppet shows on television, sitting close to the screen trying to figure out how to make the puppets he saw on Kukla, Fran & Ollie, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, and, after 1970, Sesame Street ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Nat “King” Cole was born Nathaniel Adams Cole in Montgomery, Alabama. With a father who was a preacher and musical brothers, Cole grew up amid performance and music. As a child he lived in Chicago, Illinois, playing the organ in his father's church and performing in his brother Eddie's ensemble, the Solid Swingers. Cole began his career as a pianist in 1936 when he joined James Herbert (“Eubie”) Blake's traveling revue Shuffle Along.

In 1937 Cole settled in Los Angeles, California, and formed a trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince. In the early recordings of the combo, Cole displayed harmonic and melodic innovation that only his finest contemporaries—Art Tatum and Edward Kennedy (“Duke”) Ellington could rival Despite the extraordinary talents of both Moore and Cole the combo met with limited success due largely to the era s nearly exclusive ...

Article

Ronald P. Dufour

Cole, Nat King (17 March 1919–15 February 1965), pianist and singer, was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of the Reverend Edward James Coles, Sr., and Perlina Adams, a musician. Cole’s family moved to Chicago when he was four. He first studied piano with his mother, then with bassist Milt Hinton’s mother, and at the age of twelve, classical piano with a Professor Thomas. The family home was located near the Grand Terrace Ballroom, where Cole often heard his first and most important influence, pianist Earl Hines. In high school Cole played a variety of instruments in a band that included future jazz stars Hinton, Lionel Hampton, and Ray Nance His father eventually agreed to allow the teenager to play jazz on weeknights if he continued to play organ for Sunday services At about the age of sixteen Cole organized a ...

Article

Ian Brookes

pianist and singer, was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of the Reverend Edward James Coles Sr., a Baptist minister, and Perlina Adams Coles, choir leader and organist at her husband's church. The family, which included Nat's brother, Edward Jr. (“Eddie”) and sisters, Eddie Mae and Evelyn, moved to Chicago when Nat was about four years old, where his brothers Isaac (“Ike”) and Lionel (“Freddie”) were born. All the Coles children demonstrated musical talent, each playing piano and organ at their father's services and singing in the church choir. Nat was especially precocious, capable at the age of four of a two-handed rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” on the family piano. From the age of twelve he received formal piano training.

Nat grew up on Chicago s South Side the heartland of Prohibition jazz culture and attended Wendell Phillips High School Grounded ...

Article

Iain Anderson

singer and pianist. An influential jazz pianist, Nat King Cole transformed himself into a popular balladeer and one of the most successful entertainers of the 1950s and early 1960s. Although he was criticized for his supposed commercialism and accommodation of segregation, Cole's appeal endured until his death from lung cancer in 1965.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama, at age four Nathaniel Adams Coles moved to Chicago with his parents, part of the Great Migration of southern African Americans seeking a better life in northern cities. His father, Edward James Coles, ministered to a Baptist congregation, and his mother, Perlina Coles directed the church choir and encouraged her six children to study and perform music Cole he adopted his stage name in the late 1930s sang and played organ in his father s church from age twelve and played piano for several bands in Chicago during and after ...

Article

Stephen Bourne

Trinidadianactor and singer who settled in Britain in 1944. Two weeks after his arrival he made his debut on BBC radio in Calling the West Indies. Connor's appealing voice and charming personality endeared him to the British public, and he became a major television and radio personality. Connor saw himself as an ambassador for Trinidad and promoted Caribbean folk music and dance wherever he could. He married Pearl Nunez (also from Trinidad) in London in 1948.

For almost two decades Connor played featured roles in a number of British and American films, including Cry, the Beloved Country (1952) and Moby Dick (1956). In 1958, when Paul Robeson turned down the role of Gower in Shakespeare'sPericles for the Stratford Memorial Theatre he recommended Connor for it Connor thus became the first black actor to appear in a Shakespeare season at ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Donna L. Halper

radio personality and advertising executive, was most likely the first black announcer in the history of broadcasting, on the air as early as 1924. His successful radio career would span four decades and make him a wealthy man. Cooper did not come from an entertainment background. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he was one of ten children of William and Lavina Cooper. Jack Cooper quit school after the fifth grade to help support his impoverished family. He held a number of low-paying jobs and for a time got interested in boxing, winning more than a hundred bouts as a welterweight fighter. But he found his calling on the vaudeville stage, where he became a singer and dancer, beginning in 1905 and continuing well into the 1920s. He was more than just a performer, writing and producing skits and entire shows, often in collaboration with his first wife Estelle ...

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Alexander J. Chenault

television show host and producer, was born the son of a postal worker and a homemaker on the predominantly black South Side of Chicago, Illinois. In 1954, after graduating from DuSable High School, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1956 he married his childhood sweetheart, Delores Harrison, with whom he had two sons, Anthony and Raymond. After a subsequent divorce, he married Viktoria Chapman in 2001. The couple divorced in 2009.

When he returned to Chicago after eighteen months of service in Korea, Cornelius held several different jobs, first working as car salesman, then selling tires and insurance before a stint with the police department. While issuing a traffic ticket, Cornelius was advised by the motorist he had stopped that with his resonant voice, he should get into broadcasting. The driver, Ed Cobb was a radio personality and he hired Cornelius as an ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Born in a poor Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bill Cosby left home for a stint in the United States Navy that lasted from 1956 to 1960. He studied at Temple University in Philadelphia but dropped out to devote his time to stand-up comedy. After establishing his name on the nightclub circuit in 1963, Cosby auditioned successfully to fill a guest spot on American television entertainer Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. An instant success, Cosby became the first African American to host the program regularly. In 1965 he became the first black person to have a starring role on a predominantly white television drama, appearing alongside Robert Culp on the program I Spy. Because of Cosby's Emmy Award–winning success on I Spy, many fans paralleled his success with that of African American professional baseball player Jackie Robinson.

As a rising television celebrity Cosby ...

Article

Jason King

actor and comedian, was born William Henry Cosby Jr. in Germantown, Philadelphia, the son of William Henry Cosby Sr., a U.S. Navy mess steward, and Anna Pearl Cosby. Many of the vicissitudes of Cosby's childhood in the poverty-stricken Richard Allen housing projects would be transformed later into fodder for his hilarious comedy routines and television shows. As a youngster, Cosby worked many hours shining shoes and performing menial tasks at a local grocery. He attended the Germantown High School for Gifted Students, where he was elected captain of the track and football teams.

At age nineteen, Cosby dropped out of school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, in which he served for four years (1956–1960). During his stint in the navy, he managed to earn his high school equivalency diploma through correspondence and studied physical therapy. In 1960 with four years of military service under his ...