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Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

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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 ...

Article

More than anyone else, Louis Armstrong was responsible for legitimizing and popularizing jazz for a wider public. A much-admired jazz trumpeter and gravel-voiced vocalist, Armstrong was also a consummate entertainer, steadily expanding his career from instrumentalist to popular singer, to film and television personality, and, ultimately, to cultural icon. He acquired many nicknames throughout his life, including Dippermouth, Pops, and Satchelmouth—the latter often contracted to Satchmo. As Satchmo, he was instantly identifiable around the world, decades before PrinceMadonna, or Sting. The international appeal of his music in effect made Armstrong the American goodwill ambassador to the world.

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John Herschel Barnhill

first soprano for the Vandellas girl group, was born in Detroit, Michigan, to John and Mary Ashford. Her parents separated when she was still young. She visited her father on weekends with her brother and sister. Small and shy, she enjoyed childhood play, especially roller skating and swimming. At Wilbur Wright High School in Detroit, she was in the glee club and mixed choir. She enjoyed dancing and went to Graystone Ballroom on weekends. Her ambition was to be an airline stewardess.

In 1957, at the urging of her mother and sister, she auditioned at the Detroit YMCA for Edward “Pops” Larkins, who was forming a new female group. She sang first soprano, and Annette Beard sang alto, behind Gloria Williams in the Del-Phis, performing at parties, school functions, and other local events. Martha Reeves joined the group in 1960 Williams left and Reeves became lead vocalist ...

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SaFiya D. Hoskins

musician and actress, was born Erica Abi Wright in Dallas, Texas, the eldest of three children born to Kolleen Maria Gipson and William Wright Jr. Young Erica's mother worked as a theatrical performer while her maternal grandmother helped to raise the Wright children. Eevin, her brother, was the youngest sibling. The Wright daughters, like their mother, embraced the arts: Koryan, her younger sister, was a singer who would later perform background for Erica under the stage name Nayrok Udab.

At the young age of four, Erica was already exhibiting theatrical and artistic tendencies and began singing and dancing with her mother at the Dallas Theater Center. She was in first grade when her appearance in a Christmas play inspired her early desire to perform onstage. Erica was introduced by her mother to a diverse array of artists who influenced her musical palate, such as Ella Fitzgerald Pink Floyd ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Pearl Bailey was born in Newport News, Virginia, but soon moved to Washington, D.C. and later to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her stage-singing debut came when she was fifteen years old. Bailey's brother Bill was beginning his own career as a tap dancer, and at his suggestion she entered an amateur contest at Philadelphia's Pearl Theater, where she won first prize. Several months later, she won a similar contest at Harlem's famous Apollo Theater, and she decided to pursue a career in entertainment.

Bailey began by singing and dancing in Philadelphia's African American nightclubs in the 1930s, and soon started performing in other parts of the East Coast. In 1941 during World War II (1939–1945), Bailey toured the country with the United Service Organizations (USO), performing for American troops. After the tour, she settled in New York City Her solo successes as a nightclub performer were ...

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Bernard L. Peterson

actress, singer, and entertainer, was born Pearl Mae Bailey in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James Bailey and Ella Mae (maiden name unknown). Her brother Bill Bailey was at one time a well-known tap dancer.

While still in high school, Bailey launched her show business career in Philadelphia, where her mother had relocated the family after separating from Reverend Bailey. In 1933 at age fifteen she won the first of three amateur talent contests with a song and dance routine at the Pearl Theatre in Philadelphia which awarded her a five dollar prize In a second contest at the Jungle Inn in Washington D C she received a twelve dollar prize for a buck and wing dancing act After winning a third contest at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem she began performing professionally first as a specialty dancer or chorus girl ...

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Robert W. Logan

Bailey graced the worlds of movies, television, musical theater, nightclubs, and recordings with a dazzling smile, an engaging personality, and the sense that she was communicating personally with each individual member of her audience. An entertainer who methodically worked her way up the show business ladder, she was unassuming and unpretentious, but nevertheless a star whose charismatic presence illuminated stages and screens for more than fifty years.

Pearl Mae Bailey was born in Newport News, Virginia, to Joseph James and Ella Mae Bailey. Her father was a revivalist minister, and at the age of three she was already dancing and singing in his church. When she was four, the family moved to Washington, DC. When her parents separated, Bailey, the youngest of four children, stayed with her father, but eventually she joined her mother and siblings in Philadelphia, where her mother had remarried.

Bailey attended William Penn High ...

Article

Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

For many people, Josephine Baker's name will always evoke a well-known, controversial image: the “Black Venus” naked onstage, except for a string of bananas around her waist, dancing to African drums before her white Parisian audiences. It was this image that first made Baker a star, one whose international fame lasted for five decades. But the picture of the exotic dancer does not fully capture the complexity of the woman who was one of the first black performers to transcend race and appeal to audiences of all colors around the world.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Freda Josephine MacDonald the name Baker came from her second husband Her parents were not married her father was a drummer in a local band and her mother a washerwoman rarely had enough money to support Baker and her three younger half siblings At age eight Baker began working as ...

Article

Karen C. Dalton

dancer, singer, and entertainer, was born in the slums of East St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a drummer, who abandoned Baker and her mother after the birth of a second child, and of Carrie McDonald, a onetime entertainer who supported what became a family of four by doing laundry. Poverty, dislocation, and mistreatment permeated Baker's childhood. By the age of eight she was earning her keep and contributing to the family's support by doing domestic labor. By the time Baker was fourteen, she had left home and its discord and drudgery; mastered such popular dances as the Mess Around and the Itch, which sprang up in the black urban centers of the day; briefly married Willie Wells and then divorced him and begun her career in the theater She left East St Louis behind and traveled with the Dixie Steppers on ...

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Kariamu Welsh

Josephine Baker was the first and greatest black dancer to emerge in the genre now called “performance art.” She epitomized through dance what freedom of expression and artistic expression really meant for generations of artists worldwide. Baker was one of the few artists in the world who were acclaimed and awarded for being themselves. Her genius resided in her conception of music, dance, and comedy; she had a musician’s sense of timing, a dancer’s instinct for cutting a phrase, and a comedian’s ability to deliver a punch line even when it was in a song or gesture. Not merely an entertainer, Baker was in every sense of the word an artist, and it was as an artist that she made her mark on the world.

Baker was also a humanitarian who in her own unique and eccentric way tried to live by example She symbolized beauty elegance grace and most ...

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Asli Tekinay

singer and dancer. Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in a poor black neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, was twenty-one years old at the time and worked as a laundry woman. Her father, Eddie Carson a vaudeville drummer left his wife a year after Josephine was born Josephine thus grew up fatherless and in poverty When she was eight years old her mother hired her out to a white woman as a maid From then on Josephine was on her own in life An ambitious and optimistic child she learned to dance in the back streets of Saint Louis She went to the zoo watched kangaroos camels and giraffes and imitated their movements She wanted to be a great dancer and live a glamorous life At the age of twelve she dropped out of school and at thirteen her professional life began ...

Article

A young African American dancer named Josephine Baker and her act, La Revue Nègre (The Negro Revue), took Paris by storm in 1925. Baker described their effect in these words: “When the rage was in New York of colored people, Mr. Siegfied of Ziegfied Follies said: ‘It's getting darker and darker on old Broadway.’ Since La Revue Nègre came to Gai Paree, I'll say, ‘It's getting darker and darker in Paris.’”

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

daguerreotypist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born in Virginia, the second of four children of William Ball and Susan Ball, who were free blacks. In his youth Ball was a stevedore who worked along the Ohio River. He may have learned daguerreotypy around 1840 from a Boston-based African American photographer named John B. Bailey in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia Ball settled in Cincinnati a busy river town that was growing dramatically One of Ball s earliest known works early1840s is an outdoor scene a half plate daguerreotype of the Myers Co Confectioners in Cincinnati It is a remarkably clear image featuring a horse and cart standing in the dirt street and a group of top hatted men standing in front of the company building This piece like many of Ball s daguerreotypes is enclosed in a brass mat and embossed J P Ball Cincinnati Such ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

a doo-wop singer with a distinctive bass voice who sang with the 1950s group the Moonglows, was born in Magnolia, Mississippi, one of fourteen children of farmers Garfield and Della Barnes. His siblings were Jellee, Jethro, Samuel, James, Tero, Houston, Clifton, Simon, Buster, Maggie, Bertha, Julia Mae, and Beulah Mae. The family worked a two-hundred-acre farm, raising cotton, corn, cucumbers, watermelons, and other products to sell from a truck as well as cows, chickens, and hogs. Barnes did not attend high school because he had to help out on the farm. Barnes began singing in church and picked up performing jobs before leaving farming to pursue his dream of a musical career, By 1952 he had formed the Crazy Sounds with Harvey Fuqua Alexander Pete Graves Bobby Lester and Billy Johnson The group sang in churches and local clubs until coming to the attention of famed Cleveland disc ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Etta Moten was born in San Antonio, Texas. The daughter of a minister, she married at age 17 and had three children before divorcing six years later. After her marriage ended, Barnett attended the University of Kansas and in 1931 received a B.F.A. degree in music. Her senior college recital led to an invitation to join the Eva Jessye Choir in New York City.

In New York Barnett appeared in the Broadway musicals Fast and Furious (1931), Zombie (1932), Sugar Hill (1932), and Lysistrata (1933). She also sang on the soundtracks of several motion pictures and appeared in the movies Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Flying Down to Rio (1934).

In 1934 she married the founder of the Associated Negro Press (ANP), Claude Barnett During the next several years Etta Moten Barnett gave concerts ...

Article

Allison Kellar

actor, singer, and philanthropist, was born Etta Moten in Weimar, Texas, the only daughter of Reverend Freeman F. Moten and Ida Norman Moten. The ten-year-old Etta took an active part in church, singing in the choral group and instructing Sunday-school lessons. Standing on a makeshift step stool, in order to be at the same height level as the rest of the choir, she shared her voice with the congregation.

After high school Barnett wedded Lieutenant Curtis Brooks During their seven year marriage she had four children one of whom died at birth Following in the footsteps of her college educated parents she attended the University of Kansas in the 1920s however in order to receive her education Barnett had to sacrifice her conventional family life She divorced her husband and left her three daughters under her parents supervision while she attended school On weekends she cared ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

best known for her 1965 song “Rescue Me,” was born to a large family in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Martha Bass, sang with the Clara Ward Singers. Bass, who started performing at age five, identified both her mother and grandmother as her major influences. Through Martha, Fontella met such gospel greats as Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward and Brother Joe May While Martha sang on the road Fontella accompanied her grandmother on the piano nightly at local funeral homes Eventually Fontella began traveling with her mother and grandmother throughout the South playing programs every night in a different town The gigs continued until she was sixteen when Bass shifted to secular music She had been listening to rock and roll on the radio as well as seeing blues and jazz performers at various East St Louis clubs Unbeknownst to her mother Fontella played piano with J C Story ...