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Christina Accomando

William Attaway was born 19 November 1911, in Greenville, Mississippi, to Florence Parry Attaway, a teacher, and William Alexander Attaway, a physician and founder of the National Negro Insurance Association. When he was five, his family moved to Chicago, taking part in the Great Migration that he later chronicled as a novelist. The family moved to protect the children from the corrosive racial attitudes of the South.

Attaway's early interest in literature was sparked by Langston Hughes's poetry and by his sister who encouraged him to write for her theater groups. He attended the University of Illinois until his father's death, when Attaway left school and traveled west. He lived as a vagabond for two years, working a variety of jobs and writing. In 1933 he returned to Chicago and resumed his schooling, graduating in 1936. Attaway's play Carnival (1935 was produced at the ...


George P. Weick

writer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi, the son of William S. Attaway, a medical doctor, and Florence Parry, a teacher. His family moved to Chicago when Attaway was six years old, following the arc of the Great Migration, that thirty‐year period beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century during which more than 2 million African Americans left the South for the burgeoning industrial centers of the North. Unlike many of these emigrants, who traded the field for the factory and the sharecropper's shack for the ghetto, the Attaways were professionals at the outset, with high ambitions for themselves and their children in their new homeland.

Attaway attended public schools in Chicago, showing no great interest in his studies until, as a high school student, he encountered the work of Langston Hughes He became from that point on a more serious student and even tried his hand ...


David Krasner

actor, director, and composer, was born Robert Allen Cole Jr. in Athens, Georgia, the son of Robert Allen Cole Sr., a successful carpenter and political activist. Nothing is known about Cole's mother. Cole received musical training in Athens and finished elementary school after his family moved to Atlanta. He made his first stage appearance in Chicago, performing in Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show in 1891; later he became the show's stage manager. Around 1893 Cole and his stage partner, Stella Wiley, moved to New York, where they performed in vaudeville. Cole and Wiley may have married, but there is no evidence, and in any event by the end of the 1890s they had parted company. Returning to Jack's Creole Show Cole soon emerged as the headliner developing his popular stage character the tramp Willy Wayside During the mid 1890s he formed the first school ...


Roanne Edwards

Shirley Graham Du Bois was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the oldest of David A. Graham and Etta (Bell) Graham's five children. Growing up, she moved with her family to various locations throughout the United States. As a teenager in Colorado Springs, Colorado, she first met W. E. B. Du Bois when he came to lecture at the local African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Soon after high school, she married a local man, Shadrack T. McCanns. The marriage soon ended, leaving her with two small children to support. “In quick succession I knew the glory of motherhood and the pain of deep sorrow,” she wrote later. “For the years immediately following, everything I did … was motivated by my passionate desire to make a good life for my sons.”

The nomadic quality of Graham s early life carried over into her educational experiences and into her later years ...


Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

When Shirley Graham wrote in a 1933Crisis essay, “Black man’s music has become America’s music. It will not die,” she summed up one of her life’s ambitions: to bring to the foreground the many accomplishments of African Americans in every field. One of Graham’s concerns was that African Americans would eventually abandon their spirituals, with their unique rhythms and haunting melodies. In an effort to preserve black music, she became the first African American woman to write and produce an all-black opera, Tom-Toms: An Epic of Music and the Negro (1932). This was just one successful effort in a lifetime devoted to the preservation of black history and culture.

Shirley Lola Graham was born on a farm near Evansville, Indiana, to David Andrew Graham and Etta Bell Graham Graham and her four brothers were encouraged by their father a Methodist missionary to discover black culture ...


Jennifer Jensen Wallach

author, composer, and activist. When Shirley Graham Du Bois was thirteen years old she met the prominent scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois. The meeting had a profound impact on her political and personal development, for she eventually married Du Bois in 1951. She became well known as W. E. B. Du Bois's second wife, causing some to overlook her tremendous personal accomplishments.

Shirley Graham was born near Evansville, Indiana, to David Graham and Etta Graham. Her father was an African Methodist Episcopal minister, a career that caused him to move his family to various locations in the United States, including Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and Nashville. At his churches Shirley first discovered a love for music, learning to play the organ and piano. She completed high school in Spokane, Washington, and then moved to Seattle, where she married Shadrack T. McCants ...


Vernitta Brothers Tucker

author, composer, playwright, and activist, was born Shirley Lola Graham in Evansville, Indiana, the daughter of David A. Graham, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Etta Bell Graham, a homemaker. Graham's father had read many novels to his daughter, including Uncle Tom's Cabin, Les Miserables, Ben Hur, and Quo Vadis?, influencing her to become a voracious reader. His storytelling and commitment to intellectual pursuits strongly influenced Graham's literary development.

Young Graham's early education began in New Orleans, where her exposure to classic literature put her at an advantage over many of her classmates. When she was eight or nine years old, her family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned her first income writing for the local newspaper. In 1912 she attended Tenth Street High School in Clarksville Tennessee where she distinguished herself as the class poet and ...


Brian Hallstoos

playwright, musician, and choir director, was born Willa Saunders in Little Rock, Arkansas, the daughter of Ada Anderson and Atlas Saunders, a pastor. Her twin sister and only sibling, Jimmie, died in infancy. As a child Willa learned to play the piano by practicing on an image of a keyboard drawn with charcoal on cardboard. Unable to afford lessons, she sought instruction from a girl who lived next door. In 1920 she graduated from Arkansas Baptist College and married George W. Jones, who later became a pastor. Soon after, they fled to Chicago after George was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. The couple had two sons and a daughter who died in infancy. Willa's mother, who worked as a maid in Arkansas, traveled to Chicago to help raise her grandsons.

In Chicago Willa Jones joined St John Church Baptist the first of ...


Steven R. Carter

and innovator in the satirical revue and the black musical. Born in Frankfort, Kentucky, George C. Wolfe took his BA in directing from California's Pomona College in 1976. While attending Pomona, he won the regional festival of the American College Theatre Festival in 1975 with a comedy–satire titled Up for Grabs and in 1977 became his region's first repeat winner with Block Party, which centered on the difficulties facing a black male attempting to move beyond the block (literal and figurative) that shaped him. Receiving his MFA in playwriting and musical theater from New York University in 1983, he wrote the libretto for Duke Ellington's music in Queenie Pie, produced at Washington's Kennedy Center in 1986.

While Queenie Pie had a moderate success, Wolfe's main claim to attention and acclaim that year was The Colored Museum a collection of eleven exuberantly inventive exhibits brief ...


Lisa E. Rivo

playwright, theater director and producer, and arts administrator, was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, the third of four children of Costello Wolfe, a clerk at the state department of corrections, and Anna (Lindsey) Wolfe, a teacher who became principal of a private black elementary school, which the Wolfe children attended. George spent the summer before high school in New York City with his mother while she was doing research toward her doctorate in education. There he saw his first professional theater productions, Hello Dolly with Pearl Bailey and a revival of West Side Story. The next summer he went with his mother to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he attended a youth theater program, returning to Frankfort with new ambitions and confidence. “If I joined a club and didn't become president, I'd quit the club,” he later boasted (New York Times Magazine ...


George C. Wolfe was born and raised in the racially segregated city of Frankfort, Kentucky, in the 1950s. There he attended a private primary school where his mother was principal. During his high school years, he developed an interest in the theater. He attended college in Frankfort at the historically black Kentucky State University, and then at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he majored in theater arts. Wolfe received his bachelor's degree in 1976. He moved to New York City in 1979, where he earned a master's degree in dramatic writing and musical theater from New York University in 1983.

Wolfe began his career as a playwright in New York City. Although one of his first works, the musical Paradise! (1985), was panned by critics, Wolfe soon achieved success. The next production of his work, 1986's The Colored Museum won him critical ...