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Alice Knox Eaton

writer, performer, and teacher, was born Barbara Davis in Hampton, Virginia, the youngest of four children of Willie Louise Barbour and Collis H. Davis. Her parents were educators at Hampton University, the traditionally black college once attended by Booker T. Washington. Her mother died in 1955, when Davis was only seven years old. Davis graduated from the Putney School in Vermont in 1966, received her bachelor's degree from Barnard College in 1970, and did graduate work at both Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.

By the age of twenty Davis was publishing and performing her poetry. While living in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, she wrote and performed with Ntozake Shange, Jessica Hagedorn and other spoken word artists all members of a group called the Third World Artists Collective During this time she also worked as a reporter for the San Francisco ...

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Doris Evans McGinty

According to Jerrold Lytton (as reported by H. S. Fortune in the Colored American, June 1900), Theodore Drury was born in Kentucky of a musical family. He was well read and able to speak both French and German. Described in contemporary reports as thoroughly trained, elegant, and highly professional in bearing, he was considered by some as the first black, highly trained male singer.

It was in New York and the New England states that Drury's early performing experience as a tenor took place, often in support of more established singers. Through these appearances, his name became known and in 1889 he organized the Drury Comic Opera Company. Toward the end of that same year, the company was renamed the Theodore Drury Opera Company and gave concerts of operatic selections under the management of G. H. Barrett. An advertisement in 1889 (New York Age October ...

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Vanessa Agard-Jones

culinary anthropologist, poet, performing artist, and journalist, was born Verta Mae Smart in Fairfax, South Carolina, the daughter of Frank Smart. She grew up in Monk's Corner, South Carolina, and as a teenager moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she attended Kensington High School. Grosvenor married twice, first to Robert S. Grosvenor and later to Ellensworth Ausby, and had two children.

Grosvenor's early life in the South Carolina Lowcountry was enormously influential in her later career, grounding her in a cultural milieu that was thoroughly Geechee (or Gullah) in language (her first language was the Creole known as Gullah), in ritual, and perhaps most importantly to her later work, in food. Geechee communities of the American South have retained African linguistic and cultural practices.

At the age of thirty-two, in 1970, Grosvenor published her culinary memoir Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a ...

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Gabriel Mayora

gay and transgender activist, theater performer, and U.S. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) icon, was born Malcolm Michaels, Jr. in Elizabeth, New Jersey. There is no available information about Johnson's parents, but in Michael Kasino's 2012 documentary Pay It No Mind Johnson briefly mentions her mother, though she does not provide her name or occupation; she never brings up her father, suggesting, perhaps, that she was raised in a single-parent household. As a child Johnson attended the Mount Teamon Church, a Baptist church in New Jersey. At age five she started wearing drag; later, when she was thirteen, a boy she knew from school raped her. Reflecting back on this early experience, Johnson identified it as the moment she discovered men could be attracted to other men and act on those feelings (Kasino).

Between the ages of sixteen and twenty two Johnson moved to New ...

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Beth Kraig

model, singer, performance artist, and actress, was born in Spanishtown, Jamaica, the daughter of Marjorie and Robert Jones. Her mother was a clothing maker whose design skills influenced her daughter's eventual reputation as a fashion trendsetter. Her father was a minister whose charismatic preaching influenced his daughter's sense of drama. Jones, a twin, was one of seven children, and the large family shared an enthusiasm for music that shaped her childhood ambition of becoming a singer.

Like thousands of people of African descent from the Caribbean, the family relocated to the United States to seek more opportunities. They settled in Syracuse, New York, in the 1960s, with the parents preceding their children to the United States and then reuniting the family in 1964 in their new home. Jones continued her education in Syracuse and enrolled in Syracuse University in 1968 where she focused on ...

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Joan F. McCarty

actress, singer, and producer, was born Rosetta Olive Burton, the daughter of Harold Charles Burton and Marie (Jacques) Burton in New York City's Hell's Kitchen (now Clinton) neighborhood. Her father was a licensed engineer and plumber and was active in the political arena both locally and nationally. When Rosetta was very young, her mother fell desperately ill after giving birth. The nearest hospital refused to admit her because of her race, and she died of pneumonia.

As a youngster, LeNoire suffered from rickets, a weakening of the bones usually caused by inadequate vitamin D and/or calcium in the diet. Doctors reset her legs, but she wore leg braces until 1924 when she was thirteen. At this time she began to take music lessons from the legendary composer Eubie Blake, who continued to be a mentor and friend until he died in 1983. Bill ...

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Jennifer Lynn Headley

cultural critic, historian, performance and installation artist, photographer, writer, and activist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Lena, emigrated from Jamaica to Boston in the 1920s. She earned a BA from Wellesley College in Spanish and Economics and an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa, studying-in its renowned Writers' Workshop. From Iowa, she moved to New York City and began writing for the Village Voice and Rolling Stone as a rock critic. She changed her career course with her first performance pieces in the 1980s and her critical writings about art and its effect on students and peers.

O'Grady's first performed as Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire, loosely translated into Ms. Black Middle Class; her alter ego was a rowdy uninvited guest to numerous high-profile art exhibitions. Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire Goes to JAM (1980), Mlle Bourgeoise Noire Goes to ...

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Diane Hudson

artist, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Lucille Lancaster and William Pope II. His mother worked as a reporter, an office worker, nurse, and housewife, and his father was a factory worker and clothes presser.

Self-proclaimed the “Friendliest Black Artist in America,” Pope.L is a multidisciplinary artist whose broad-based conceptual performances aggressively address consumerism, racism, class, and gender. The unusual name, Pope.L, was given to him at birth by his mother, the L representing her maiden name, Lancaster. Pope.L would later recall, “As mum would say, she only got one letter” (interview with the author, July 2004).

Pope L didn t really commit to a life of art until he was a junior in high school although he remembers a female art teacher in grammar school encouraging him His grandmother he tells me was very much for his becoming an artist No one in my family ...

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Ondra Krouse Dismukes

poet, performance artist, and novelist, was born Ramona Lofton at Fort Ord military base near Monterey, California, one of four children. Sapphire and her family lived on and off army bases in California and Texas for the first twelve years of her life. She suffered sexual abuse from her father as early as age three. When Sapphire was thirteen, her father retired from the army and moved to Europe. Following her parents’ separation, Sapphire and her siblings moved with their mother to South Philadelphia, her mother's hometown. Soon after their move her mother abandoned the family, and Sapphire moved back to California with her siblings, to Los Angeles.

At age twenty-one Sapphire hitchhiked to San Francisco, where she attempted to reconstruct her life after bearing the burden of being guardian to her two siblings. In 1973 she enrolled in San Francisco City College as a premed ...