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Donna Waller Harper

dancer, choreographer and actress, was born Deborrah Kaye Allen in Houston, Texas, to Andrew Allen, a dentist, and Vivian Ayers-Allen, a poet and librarian; her parents had two other children, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Allen, better known as Tex. Although she exhibited an early interest in dance and desired to join the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she was denied admission when she applied in the 1950s in what her mother saw as a clear example of discrimination. Her parents were able to pay for private ballet lessons with the Ballet Russes. She later traveled and trained in Mexico City with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964 she returned to Houston where she once again auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet This time she was not only accepted to the prestigious organization but was awarded a scholarship Her talent won her ...

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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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Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, athlete, singer, and producer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Annabelle Patricia West and John Allen Amos Sr., a self-taught diesel auto mechanic and tractor trailer driver. Shortly after his second birthday, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where they lived while John Sr. served in the military during World War II. His father left after the war, and his mother struggled to support her family by working as a domestic and then as a certified dietician. Amos recalled that, “the only time [he] ever saw his mother concede to possible failure was one time when she could not find any food in the cupboards. She had to ask him to go to the next-door neighbor to borrow food” (interview with John Amos by the author, 2010 Amos first joined the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey at about ...

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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 ...

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Meredith Broussard

actor and director, was born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. in Landstuhl, Germany, to Levardis Robert Burton Sr., a career army photographer, and Erma Christian. The couple separated when their son was three. Erma returned to the United States with her son and his two elder sisters and settled in Sacramento, California. The family were devout Roman Catholics, and Burton decided at thirteen to enter a Catholic seminary to become a priest. While there, he changed his mind and decided to become an actor instead.

Burton's big break came while he was a drama student at the University of Southern California's School of Theatre. While playing Ali Hakeem, the Persian rug dealer in the musical Oklahoma!, he tried out for the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley s landmark book tracing the generations of his family through America and back to Africa Burton landed the part ...

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Roanne Edwards

Ossie Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the son of a railway engineer, and grew up in Waycross, Georgia. The harassment of his parents by the Ku Klux Klan impelled him early on to become a writer so that he could “truthfully portray the black man's experience.” At Howard University, under the tutelage of drama critic Alain Locke, Davis developed his theatrical talent, performing in a 1941 production of Joy Exceeding Glory with Harlem's Rose McClendon Players. Following his theater debut, however, he received few job offers and for nearly a year found himself living on the street.

Davis never lost his sense of purpose. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he returned to New York, New York, where he won the title role in Robert Ardrey's play Jeb (1946). In 1948 he married fellow performer Ruby ...

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Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

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Cassandra Jackson

Born in Cogsdell, Georgia, Ossie Davis grew up in nearby Waycross. He studied at Howard University for three years, then traveled to New York to pursue a career in the theater. With the encouragement of Alain Locke, Davis obtained a position with the Rose McClendon Players of Harlem, while writing in his spare time. The following year, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Medical Corps and in Special Services. While stationed in Liberia, he wrote and produced Goldbrickers of 1944, a musical variety show. Discharged in 1945, Davis returned to New York and gained the lead role in the play Jeb, which propelled his stage career. Also starring in the play was Davis's future wife, Ruby Dee, with whom he would continue to costar in plays and later in film. Among Davis's stage, film, and television credits are The Joe Louis Story ...

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Niambi Lee-Kong

actor, playwright, producer, director, and civil rights activist. Ossie Davis, though commonly known for his work in the dramatic arts, was a humanitarian and activist who used his talents and fame to fight for the humane treatment of his people and for recognition of their contributions to society.

Raiford Chatman Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, to Kince Charles Davis and Laura Cooper Davis. Though neither parent was formally educated, Davis's father was a preacher and a railroad construction engineer. Davis's name “Ossie” came from a clerk's misunderstanding the pronunciation of the initials “R. C.” when recording his birth.

In 1935 Davis graduated from Central High School in Waycross, Georgia. He then attended Howard University, where he met Alain Locke a professor of philosophy who had been the first black Rhodes scholar Locke recognized Ossie s talent introduced him to black theater and encouraged ...

Article

Hilary Mac Austin

Suzanne de Passe learned from her mentor, Berry Gordy, that “a business based on principles is more important than a business based on revenue.” She has held true to that motto. Amazingly, in the cutthroat, white-male-dominated world of Hollywood, she has not only survived but succeeded magnificently.

One of the first and still one of the only African American women powerbrokers in the television and film businesses, Suzanne Celeste de Passe grew up middle-class in Harlem. Her parents, both West Indian, were divorced when she was three. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father worked for Seagrams. He remarried six years after the divorce and is credited with providing de Passe with a strong role model. De Passe attended an elite, integrated private school in Manhattan, the New Lincoln School. While still young, she began modeling clothes designed by DeVera Edwards.

De Passe entered Syracuse University as ...

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Claranne Perkins

music executive, television and film producer, and screenwriter, was born in New York, New York. Her father worked for Seagram's and her mother was a schoolteacher. Her paternal grandfather was a physician in Harlem.

Her parents divorced when she was three but managed to maintain a supportive environment for their daughter. She spent the week with her mother and the weekend with her father. He remarried when de Passe was nine, and the three adults formed a supportive alliance that continued to nurture de Passe.

She lived the elite life of prominent black families in New York. She summered on Martha's Vineyard; attended the private, progressive, and integrated New Lincoln School; graduated from Manhattan High School; and entered Syracuse University in 1964 She found the university and its extremely small African American student body not to her liking so transferred to Manhattan Community College to major ...

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G. Robert Hohler

film and television producer, writer and social entrepreneur, born in St. Louis, Missouri, the only son of Julia Veva and Dr. Henry E. Hampton, a prominent physician and surgeon. Hampton's parents were leaders in efforts to change a city that was still racially segregated in the 1940s. They joined the Catholic Church because of its commitment to desegregation and enrolled their children, Henry and his two sisters, Veva and Judi, in Catholic schools. The young Hamptons were the first black students to be enrolled at an all-white suburban parochial school.

The Hamptons created a family environment that emphasized the arts trips to Sunday Symphony were a regular occurrence and intellectual accomplishment Both parents were strong willed and held their children to high standards of personal behavior and academic achievement Henry s older sister Veva went on to Wellesley College attended medical school and became a clinical ...

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Zebulon Miletsky

executive producer of the award-winning public television series Eyes on the Prize. Henry Eugene Hampton Jr. was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. Stricken with polio as a teenager, Hampton suffered from some paralysis into adulthood. After graduating from Washington University in 1961, Hampton went to work for the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association as spokesperson and media liaison. In 1968 he served as press officer for an international peace delegation, meeting with political and religious leaders. It was in that same year that Hampton founded Blackside, Inc., a film production company that over subsequent years produced more than sixty films, including the landmark series Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years which documented the struggles of African Americans to gain civil rights in America The documentary series was completed at great personal and financial cost to Hampton who nearly went bankrupt producing it mortgaging his house to keep ...

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Anthony Brown

(b Chicago, March 14, 1933). American producer, arranger, composer and entertainment entrepreneur. He was raised by his father and stepmother in Seattle from the age of ten, and learned various brass instruments before settling on the trumpet. He performed in dance bands with early musical associates including Charlie Taylor, Bumps Blackwell and Ernestine Anderson, and at 14 met the 16-year-old Ray Charles, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship and from whom he first received instruction in jazz harmony and arranging. While in high school, Jones performed with Billie Holiday and Billy Eckstine, and studied the trumpet with Clark Terry. He studied briefly at Seattle University and at the Berklee School of Music, Boston, but left to tour. He first toured Europe and made his first recordings while with Lionel Hampton, playing a solo on the 1951 recording of his own composition, Kingfish ...

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James Gavin

jazz musician, composer, and record, television, and film producer, was born Quincy Delight Jones Jr. on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, the son of Sarah (maiden name unknown) and Quincy Jones Sr., a carpenter who worked for a black gangster ring that ran the Chicago ghetto. When Quincy Sr.'s mentally ill wife was institutionalized, he sent their sons, Quincy Jr. and Lloyd, to live in the South with their grandmother. In his autobiography Jones writes of growing up so poor that his grandmother served them fried rats to eat. By the age of ten he was living with Lloyd and their father in Seattle, Washington. “My stepbrother, my brother, and myself, and my cousin … we burned down stores, we stole, whatever you had to do,” Jones said (CNN Online, “Q and A: A Talk with Quincy Jones,” 11 Dec ...

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Donald Roe

jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, music impresario, and music, film, and television producer. Quincy Delight Jones Jr., or Q, as Frank Sinatra dubbed him, is an international icon in the music industry. From producing Leslie Gore's multimillion-selling soft-rock hit single “It's My Party” (1963) and Michael Jackson's all-time best-selling record album Thriller (1982) to working with rappers like Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and others, Q has had a pervasive impact on contemporary music. Astoundingly, many African Americans born during the 1970s know little of his prowess as a jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger or that he jammed with many of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

Jones was born in 1933 on the South Side of Chicago to Quincy Delight Jones Sr and Sarah Jones Jones spent his early years learning about life on the mean streets of Chicago ...

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James Sellman

Quincy Delight Jones, Jr., has had several careers in popular entertainment, including roles as a big-band musician, composer-arranger, record company executive, producer of films and music videos, magazine publisher, and partner in a television production company. He has emerged as one of the most influential figures in Hollywood. He commenced his music career in Seattle, Washington, where his family moved during the mid-1940s from Chicago, Illinois, where he was born. He sang in a vocal harmony group directed by Joseph Powe, who had once been with Wings over Jordan. After trying various instruments in high school band, Jones settled on the trumpet.

As a teenager, Jones played in local Jazz and Rhythm and Blues groups. He became acquainted with Ray Charles, an early musical influence, who moved to the Seattle area in 1950 Besides leading his own trio Charles wrote and arranged for the five ...

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Luther Brown

journalist, news anchor, writer, documentary producer, and activist, was born in New York City to Christopher Poussaint, a printer, and Bobbie Vance Poussaint, a social worker who would eventually become New York City's human resources administration commissioner. Poussaint was born into a nurturing family in East Harlem, surrounded by her aunts and uncles. One of them, Alvin Poussaint, later became a well-known psychiatrist, writer, and civil rights activist.

Initially Poussaint attended a neighborhood Catholic school in Harlem, but in 1953 she, her parents, and her younger brother moved to Queens, New York. Three years later her parents divorced. In Queens, she attended public schools. She had a deep curiosity about the varied cultures of the world and a passion for literature, writing, and African dance—she performed briefly with a professional company. In-1962 Poussaint graduated as salutatorian of her class at ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

actor, comedian, movie director, producer, and writer, was born into a family living on the west side of Chicago. His mother raised the family alone. Growing up as the second of four children, Townsend had his sights set on a professional baseball career, but he was also interested in acting from an early age. He was selected to join the Experimental Black Actors Guild at the age of sixteen. He attended Illinois University and Hunter College, part of the City University of New York. While going to school in New Jersey, he took acting lessons in New York City from the noted teacher Stella Adler and acted in the Negro Ensemble Theater. Townsend's stage debut was in a 1979 New York production of Take It from the Top, starring Ruby Dee and directed by Ossie Davis. He also studied acting with Milton Katselas ...

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Amalia K. Amaki

photographer and film producer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to William Howard Wallace, a chef and musician, and Margaret Shannon Wallace, a real estate broker. William was the younger of the couple's two children; his older sister, Jacquelyn, was born 9 August 1936. William attended Chicago's public schools, graduating from Betsy Ross Elementary in 1951 and Central YMCA High in 1955.

Wallace's uncle gave him a camera on his tenth birthday, triggering his fascination with photographic images. With money he earned from his paper route, Wallace bought his first developing kit the following year. Three years later his family moved to a new apartment, and their landlord, Anthony Haywood was an accomplished freelance photographer with his own darkroom Noticing Wallace s interest in the medium Haywood took him under his tutelage Guided by Haywood Wallace developed the fundamental technical skills that prepared him for ...