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Thomas F. DeFrantz

Afro‐Caribbean dancer and choreographer, was born Percival Sebastian Borde in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, where he finished secondary schooling at Queens Royal College and took an appointment with the Trinidad Railway Company. Around 1942 he began formal research on Afro‐Caribbean dance and performed with the Little Carib Dance Theatre. In 1949 he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had one child. The year of their divorce is unknown.

Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture. In the early 1950s he acted as director of the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. In 1953 he met the noted American anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus who was conducting field research in Caribbean folklore Primus convinced Borde to immigrate to the United States as ...

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Clare J. Washington

pilot, who made aviation history when she became the first African American woman to fly for a major passenger airline in the United States, the first to be admitted to the U.S. Navy's flight school, and the first in U.S. military history to qualify as a pilot.

Brown was born in Millersville, Maryland. Her family had taken up aviation as a hobby, and she learned to fly small planes with her parents—Gilbert Brown, who was a former U.S. Air Force instrument mechanic and also owned a building construction business, and Elaine Brown, an art resource teacher in the Baltimore public schools—when she was seventeen years old. For her eighteenth birthday, she received a Cherokee 180D airplane. In 1967 Brown flew her first solo flight in a Piper J 3 Cub She had always dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot but her mother advised her otherwise and ...

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Princess Mhoon Cooper

dancer, choreographer, artistic director, educator, and activist, was born in Effingham, South Carolina, the eldest of three daughters of Jack Cummings and Carrie Cummings sharecroppers who grew tobacco and cotton When Blondell was a year old the Cummingses like many African American families of the mid twentieth century migrated to the North While both her parents had relatives who previously moved to New York it was Jack who followed two of his four church singing brothers to the city to pursue careers in the commercial music industry Upon the family s arrival in Harlem Jack found work as a taxi driver and Carrie earned a living as a domestic and later completed school to become a health care professional Cummings described her upbringing as very strict and typical of most black families Her mother was the disciplinarian and while her father was not an authoritarian together they ran a ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

dancer, chorographer, and teacher, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raised by her aunt Adele, who owned the Hugh Gordon Book Shop, one of the most prominent African American book stores in the city. She was influenced by the success of her cousin, Janet Collins, who was the first black dancer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet company. At the age of sixteen de Lavallade received a scholarship to study at the Lester Horton Dance Theater in Los Angeles. After her initial studies in modern dance, ballet, and various other dance forms, she joined Lester Horton's Dance Theater in 1949 and danced the lead from 1950 to 1954, taking over the roles previously danced by the legendary dance pioneer Bella Lewitzky before Lewitzky's departure from the company. Horton then created chorography especially for de Lavallade, including the role of Salome in The Face ...

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Robert W. Logan

The illustrious career of Carmen DeLavallade began at the midpoint of the twentieth century and continued into the twenty-first century. In that time she graced the arenas of dance, theater, movies, and television as one of the great dancers of her time, as well as a distinguished choreographer, actor, and teacher.

Carmen Paula DeLavallade was born in Los Angeles, California, to Leo Paul DeLavallade, a bricklayer and postman, and Grace DeLavallade She was a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles when she won an apprenticeship in the Lester Horton Dance Theater Horton a pioneer of modern dance believed that a dancer s education should be well rounded and his apprentices were taught ballet modern and ethnic dance forms as well as painting sculpture and acting Being a Horton apprentice also meant learning from experience the rudiments of scenic design costuming and stage lighting With ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

dancer, choreographer, school founder, and anthropologist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Albert Millard Dunham Sr., an African American tailor and amateur jazz musician, and Fanny June Guillaume Taylor, a school administrator of French Canadian, English, Native American, and possibly African ancestry. The Dunhams lived in the predominantly white suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, until Fanny's death when Katherine was four. Forced to sell the family home, Albert Dunham became a traveling salesman and sent Katherine and her older brother, Albert Jr., to live with relatives on the South Side of Chicago, where she was exposed to black vaudeville and blues performances.

Although Albert Sr. reunited the family after he remarried and purchased a dry cleaning store in Joliet Illinois he became increasingly unpredictable and violent Katherine found an outlet in athletics and dance while attending public high school and junior ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was the only child born to Ruth V. Silas and Mercer K. Ellington. Ellington's parents divorced less than a year after her birth. Her mother remarried the Philadelphia obstetrician and gynecologist James A. Batts, but Mercedes was raised in New York by her mother's parents, Louise and Alfred Silas. Mercedes had two half brothers, Edward and Paul, both of whom were musicians.

Ellington's family was involved in the arts for two generations. Her grandfather was the legendary jazz great Duke Ellington. Her father, Mercer Ellington, was an arranger, composer, and trumpeter who toured, arranged, and performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra off and on from 1940 through 1965 and eventually took over operation of the orchestra when Duke Ellington died in 1974.

Ellington took dance lessons from an early age and attended Our Lady of Lourdes School in Harlem ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

dancer, choreographer, and university professor, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Sally Yancey and Joshua Milton. He was their only child. After Arthur's mother and father separated, Sally Yancey raised him with the help of her mother, Emma Yancey, and then moved to Washington, D.C., where she married her second husband, Patrick Hall. Arthur eventually took Hall's surname and joined the family in D.C. In 1950, Hall made his dancing debut in The Ordering of Moses, a production sponsored by the National Negro Opera Company.

The following year, 1951, Hall and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he continued studying and performing as a dancer at the Judimar School, which had been founded in 1948 by Marion Cuyjet Hall studied modern dance at the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Malvina Tase Some of his mentors and instructors included Cuyjet a ...

Article

Melanye White Dixon

dancer, educator, choreographer, and artistic director, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the younger of two children of John Henry Jamison, a sheet-metal engineer, and Tessie Belle Brown. Jamison's parents had left the racially segregated South during the African American Great Migration of the 1920s in search of a better way of life. Jamison was born after the family had settled in the Germantown section of the city. The African American community in which she grew up built institutions that addressed the social, cultural, and political needs of its residents.

Jamison's parents held high aspirations for their daughter and their son, John Henry Jr. and attendance at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal AME Church was an integral part of family life Jamison s mother and father who had met through their involvement in the church choir made sure that their children were active in ...

Article

Jaime McLean

Judith Jamison has spent most of her life perfecting her craft. As a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and artistic director of the internationally renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Jamison has attempted to foster an appreciation for modern American dance and African American cultural expression in both her audiences and her students. She stresses the universality of dance and its ability to promote cross-cultural understanding through the expression of human experiences. “When you come to the theater,” Jamison says, “you open your head and your heart and your mind because we are there to transform you. I’m a human being who has seen the world, so I’m giving you that perspective.”

Jamison, the younger of two children, was born in Philadelphia Her parents instilled in her a passion for the arts As a young child Jamison studied piano and violin before shifting her focus to dance At age six Jamison ...

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Tarice Sims Gray

dancer, choreographer, educator, and social worker, was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to a racially mixed father, Hank Witt, who had been a buffalo soldier, and mother, Pearlie (Pryor) Witt, a black woman. Before settling in Cheyenne the family lived in Missouri, where Marjorie's older brother was born. It is not known what brought them to Cheyenne. Hank was a fair-skinned biracial man with a deep love for his dark-skinned wife. Marjorie Hayes Witt their first daughter and the second oldest of five children took after her mother and was the only one of her siblings to have Pearlie s mocha coloring Early on Marjorie learned that this legacy would be a burden Her mother found that her own complexion was a handicap and went so far as to bathe her dark skinned daughter in buttermilk in the belief it would lighten her Marjorie ...

Article

Scott Yanow

jazz and rhythm and blues pianist, was born Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr. in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Ramsey Lewis Sr. and Pauline Lewis. Lewis began playing piano when he was four years old. Some of his earliest playing experiences were accompanying the church choir during services; his father was the church's choir director. When he was fifteen years old Lewis worked regularly with the Clefs, a seven-piece jazz band that played at parties and college dances. He studied at Chicago Musical College (1947–1954), the University of Illinois (1953–1954), and DePaul University (1954–1955).

In 1956 he formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio and from the start the group was quite popular first in the Chicago area and then nationally Lewis always had a piano style that was distinctive and catchy melodic and soulful His trio with the bassist Eldee Young and the drummer ...

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Ben Penglase

Manuel dos Reis Machado was born in Bahia. He initially called the martial art that he taught “luta regional” (or regional fighting), and this style has since come to be known as capoeira regional. Mestre Bimba was one of the Capoeiramestres or masters who was influential in ...

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Jada Shapiro

dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to parents whose names and occupations are unknown. As a child he was a popular soprano soloist in churches and studied voice at the Karamu House, a local arts center devoted to celebrating the African American experience through the arts in a racially integrated environment. As he grew older Moore studied modern dance with Eleanor Frampton at the cultural center. He had the opportunity to see Asadata Dafora, the famed West African choreographer and dancer, perform the Ostrich Dance at Severance Hall. This event so moved Moore toward his future work in re-creating African dance that, as he explained in the 1984 documentary by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, Dance Black America, he “never forgot that first glimpse of Africa.”

In 1948 Moore received a Charles Weidman dance scholarship and moved to New ...

Article

Ronna C. Johnson

Carlene Hatcher Polite is among the important artists to emerge from the “second renaissance” of African American culture in the 1960s and 1970s. The author of two experimental novels, The Flagellants (1966) and Sister X and the Victims of Foul Play (1975), Polite forged a unique prose style that helped establish innovative modes popularized by later writers. In addition to writing, her widespread career included professional dance training, performance, and instruction; political organizing; civil rights activism; and academic appointments. Born in Detroit to John and Lillian (Cook) Hatcher, international representatives of UAW-CIO, Polite attended Sarah Lawrence College and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. From 1955 to 1963, she pursued a career as a professional dancer. Polite performed with the Concert Dance Theater of New York City (1955–1959) and the Detroit Equity Theatre and Vanguard Playhouse (1960–1962 and taught ...

Article

Navneet Sethi

dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, and teacher. Along with Katherine Dunham (1909–2006), Pearl Primus is regarded as the mother of modern African American dance. Dunham and Primus used their vision as anthropologists to revolutionize African American concert dance by valorizing the African heritage in the African American experience.

Pearl Primus was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1919 and came to New York City with her parents in the early 1920s. A 1940 graduate in biology from Hunter College in New York Primus had her first brush with racism when she was unable to get a job in a laboratory Taking classes with the New Dance Group a subunit of the Workers Dance League that was dedicated to social change Primus recognized her passion for dance and the need to graft this passion with her sense of outrage at social conditions Primus ...

Article

Pearl Primus studied to be a doctor, not a dancer. A biology major at Hunter College in New York City (where her family had emigrated from Trinidad in 1921), then a graduate student of psychology and health education, she was prevented from gaining a laboratory job by racial prejudice. Pressed for money, Primus applied to the National Youth Administration and was placed as an understudy in a dance troupe. Primus's superb athletic ability won her a scholarship to the New Dance Group in 1941. The first black to study and perform there, she began a long career that sought to counteract racism with Afrodiasporic performance culture.

Primus's early work displayed her careful research of traditional African dance styles and her desire to infuse dance with political and social commentary. Her 1943 professional debut, African Ceremonial received such positive reviews that she was able to open on Broadway ...

Article

Germaine Ingram

dancer and educator, was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of fourteen children of David Robinson, a construction worker, and Katherine Griffin, a homemaker. Robinson's South Philadelphia neighborhood pulsed with percussive street dancing, an example of vernacular culture that became the springboard for his distinguished career. When he was seven years old, his mother took a break from preparing supper to teach him his first tap step, which he practiced on the wooden floorboards of the family's kitchen. He expanded his repertoire by watching and imitating rhythm dancers who entertained themselves and challenged each other on street corners along Philadelphia's South Street corridor, where, according to Robinson, tap dancing was a common pastime for men, women, and children.

By his early teens Robinson was a street dancer himself busking dancing for money in Philadelphia s downtown He and two or three other youngsters became what was ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

dancer, teacher, and choreographer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents whose names and occupations are now unknown. Little is known of his early life, but he received a BA in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1961. While attending MIT, Solomons took dance classes at the Boston Conservatory of Music with Jan Veen for the Laban dance technique and Robert Cohan for the Graham technique. At the same time he studied ballet with E. Virginia Williams, founder of the Boston Ballet Company, and took dance classes from May O'Donnell, a member of Martha Graham's troupe of American modern dancers. Solomons then joined a Boston dance group, the Dance Makers, and began his own career as a choreographer.

Solomons moved to New York City in 1962 where he shared a studio with a group of dancers that became known ...

Article

Sheila Hassell Hughes

Tony Award winner, and leading African American playwright of the 1970s. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1935, to working-class parents, Joseph A. Walker began his theatrical career in college with acting roles in several student productions at Howard University. He received his BA in 1956 and went on to begin graduate work in philosophy and serve a term in the U.S. Air Force before deciding to pursue a career in theater.

Like the young protagonist, Jeff, in his most famous play, The River Niger, Walker began military service as a navigation student but found himself too distracted by poetic impulses to continue. Rather than drop out altogether like his fictional creation, however, Walker persevered in the corps, becoming a first lieutenant and second-in-command of his squadron before his discharge in 1960. Evidently he emerged even more determined to write.

With an MFA from Catholic University ...