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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 ...

Article

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 ...

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Malcolm Womack

film writer, director, and actor, was born in Vidalia, Louisiana, to Spencer Williams Sr. and Pauline Williams Tatum, the president of the local Woman's Relief Corps. At the age of seventeen, he moved to New York City and found work backstage in the theater for the producer Oscar Hammerstein. As a “call boy,” the stagehand who is responsible for giving the performers a five-minute warning before their entrances, Williams met several celebrities, including Bert Williams, the African American star of the Ziegfeld Follies, who served as something of a mentor to the young man.

After serving in the army during World War I and attaining the rank of sergeant, Williams returned to find employment in the newly burgeoning film industry, both as a performer (notably in Buster Keaton's silent classic Steamboat Bill, Jr and behind the camera He was hired by Paramount s Christie ...

Article

Born in Vidalia, Louisiana, Spencer Williams Jr. attended the University of Minnesota, dropping out to join the Army. Returning South after his 1923 discharge, he got his start in movies by writing for a series of short black films based on stories by Octavus Roy Cohen. These films were made by an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, and Williams soon moved to an office on Paramount's lot in Hollywood.

A talented actor, he appeared in some of the first African American talking movies of the 1920s, including The Lady Fare, Oft in the Silly Night, and Music Has Charms. His work as a producer included silent films such as Hot Biscuits (1929) and the earliest black Westerns, Bronze Buckaroo (1938) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939). Films that Williams wrote, directed, and starred in range from the comedy Juke Joint ...

Article

Stephanie Y. Evans

businesswoman, actress, and talk-show host. In 1994, for her fortieth birthday, Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., and finished in four hours, twenty-nine minutes, and fifteen seconds. Her ability constantly to challenge herself, as exemplified by the Marine Corps Marathon, has resulted in Winfrey's becoming an international icon for motivation, a universal symbol of business savvy and philanthropy, and an unsurpassed representation of popular American culture.

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born to unwed parents in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was an eighteen-year-old domestic worker, and her father, Vernon Winfrey was a twenty year old doing duty in the armed forces Oprah initially was reared by her grandmother on a farm in Mississippi where she reportedly learned to read aloud and perform recitations in church at the age of three From age six to age thirteen she lived in Milwaukee ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo and Julie Wolf

talk show host, actor, and entrepreneur, was born Oprah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to eighteen-year- old Vernita Lee, and Vernon Winfrey, a twenty-year-old soldier. Vernita intended to call the baby “Orpah,” after the biblical figure, but accepted “Oprah” when the name was misspelled by a clerk. Shortly after her daughter's birth, Vernita left Mississippi for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, leaving her newborn under the watchful eye of Oprah's paternal grandparents, Hattie Mae Bullock and Earless Lee, who were pig farmers. In 1960 Oprah went to Milwaukee to join her mother, who was working as a maid and who had given birth to a second daughter, Patricia. Another child, Jeffrey followed a few years later and Vernita struggled to support herself and her three young children Bright and precocious Oprah skipped several grades in elementary school but despite her siblings and her early academic ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

It should surprise no one with a sense of history that, as soon as race and gender obstacles began to fall in society, an African American woman rose to a position of dizzying success and influence. All the characteristics and values that helped black women survive against the worst forms of oppression helped one black woman, Oprah Winfrey, to soar.

Oprah Winfrey was born to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi When her parents who were not married separated she went to live with her maternal grandmother on a farm Although life was austere the young girl thrived She learned to read before she was three and was in the third grade by the age of six At that point she went to live with her mother in Milwaukee Vernita Lee managed a subsistence level existence with income from welfare and domestic work and she had little ...

Article

Robert Fay

Oprah Winfrey was born on a farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her paternal grandmother raised her until she was six years old, when she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to live with her mother, Vernita Lee. Though Winfrey did well in school, she was allegedly sexually abused by male relatives and became increasingly troubled as a teenager. Her mother, a maid who was busy raising two other children, eventually sent Winfrey to live with her disciplinarian father, a barber and businessman in Nashville, Tennessee. Winfrey flowered under Vernon Winfrey's strict supervision, excelling academically and as a public speaker. At sixteen, she won a partial scholarship to Tennessee State University in a public speaking contest sponsored by the Elks Club.

As a freshman at Tennessee State University Winfrey worked briefly as a radio newscaster before victories in two local beauty pageants helped land her a news anchor position at WTVF TV ...