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 ...
Donna Waller Harper
actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...
George H. Douglas
radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family. His father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, a job that, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio.
Between 1923 and 1933 Anderson's older brother Cornelius had a career in vaudeville as a song and dance man, and Eddie, who had little formal education, joined him occasionally. With vaudeville dying, however, Eddie drifted toward Hollywood. In the depths of the Depression, pickings were slim. His first movie appearance was in 1932 in What Price Hollywood? For a few years he had only bit parts but then he secured a major role in ...
The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.
Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...
Charles L. Hughes
DJ, producer, and member of Eric B. and Rakim, was born in East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. In his youth Barrier showed a musical aptitude, playing trumpet and guitar before devoting his energy to DJ-ing, a form which—by the mid-1970s—was a cornerstone of the burgeoning hip-hop movement arising in New York City's boroughs. Barrier's turntable talents eventually landed him a job as the mobile DJ for New York radio station WBLS while in high school. It was also during this period that Barrier met William Griffin Jr., a young MC who had adopted the name and stage persona of “Rakim Allah” in 1984 to signal his growing commitment to the Five Percent sect of the Nation of Islam a controversial but influential sect that promoted a broadly Afrocentric blend of political and spiritual advancement A prodigiously talented lyricist Rakim s complicated sophisticated rhymes found their perfect complement in ...
Charles L. Hughes
record executive, producer, and activist, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1940 or 1941. In 1945 his family moved to Little Rock, where Bell later graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the city's Philander Smith College, following this with uncompleted ministerial training; he worked as a disc jockey throughout high school and college. In 1959 Bell began working at workshops run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His SCLC involvement was short-lived, which Bell attributed to a difference in philosophy, explaining that King's strategy of nonviolent confrontation differed from his belief in the power of black capitalist entrepreneurship in effecting social change.
Bell then worked full time at several radio stations first at WLOK in Memphis where his laid back style helped boost ratings and then at WUST in Washington D C where he introduced ...
While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.
Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...
disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.
Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...
Jason Philip Miller
actor, performer, was born in Evansville, Indiana, to Sam Brooks, a choir singer and tool and die worker active in local unions, and Eva Crawford Lydia, a music teacher and one of the first African American women to graduate from Northwestern University. The family relocated to Gary when Avery was eight years old. There he attended the local schools before matriculating at Indiana University and Oberlin College, though he left both schools before taking a degree.
Soon, Brooks enrolled at Rutgers University, and it was from there that he received a Bachelor's degree in arts in 1974 and, in 1976, a Master's degree in fine arts. He was the first African American at that institution to accomplish the latter. That same year, he married Vicki Lenora, a dean at the school. The couple went on to have three children.
After graduation Brooks stayed on ...
Best known for his weekly Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television show Tony Brown's Journal, Tony Brown has become a controversial figure in the landscape of American race relations. Although once active in the Civil Rights Movement, he has criticized present-day black activists for prioritizing civil rights at the expense of black business initiatives and education programs in computer technologies. He advocates black economic self-sufficiency and has consistently opposed welfare as well as Affirmative Action policies that he believes mainly benefit middle-class blacks. “If America were capitalist,” said Brown in an interview with Matthew Robinson of Business Daily, “it could not be racist. Racism is flourishing because we are awash in socialistic controls.”
Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown was reared by two domestic workers, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes who informally adopted him at the age of two months after his father deserted the family ...
Patit Paban Mishra
academician, businessperson, author, talk-show host, and journalist. The fifth son of Royal Brown and Katherine Davis Brown, William Anthony Brown was born in Charleston, West Virginia. The marriage of his parents broke down in the racist environment of Charleston. His father was a light-skinned person, whereas his mother was of dark color. For several years he was raised by a foster family, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes, before he was reunited with his mother and three siblings. Brown had a turbulent childhood, but by sheer determination, perseverance, and hard work along with the support of his foster parents and several school teachers, he rose in life—primarily through education. After high school he attended Wayne State University in Detroit, where he earned a BA in sociology (1959) and an MSW in psychiatric social work (1961).
After graduation Brown obtained a ...
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 ...
actress and singer, was born Eliza Virginia Capers in Sumter, South Carolina. Nothing is known of her parentage or her early education. She attended Howard College and studied voice at Julliard University before pursuing a career as a singer and actress. One of the results of her classes at Julliard was that she became proficient in several languages, a skill that would serve her well in her later career.
While barely into her twenties, Capers met Abe Lyman. Leader of the popular Lyman Orchestra, he offered Capers the opportunity to tour with his orchestra and perform on his radio program. She put her linguistic abilities to good use on Lyman's radio program, where she was sometimes called upon to sing in Yiddish; after the program left the air in 1947 she was able to find roles in Yiddish theater productions in New York City She was also ...
Born in New York City, Diahann Carroll grew up in a comfortable, middle-class home. She began singing in a church choir for children at age six, and won a music scholarship sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera when she was ten. Carroll's mother, who often took her to Broadway musicals and other performances, encouraged her to apply to New York's High School of Music and Art, which accepted her.
Carroll, who had been born Carol Diahann Johnson, took her professional name at sixteen when she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Search, a television showcase for aspiring performers. Despite her parents' wish that she attend Howard University—she had earned money for college by modeling for Ebony magazine Carroll stayed in New York She left college after one semester at New York University to accept a long term nightclub engagement Soon thereafter Carroll went on the road ...
Hilary Mac Austin
Diahann Carroll was only six when she joined the Tiny Tots choir at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Her life appears to have been a nonstop rollercoaster ride ever since. As she said in Diahann: An Autobiography, “All I ever wanted to do was sing. What happened was more.”
Carroll grew up in Harlem, New York, although she was born in the Bronx as Carol Diann Johnson. Her parents were John and Mabel Faulk Johnson. She has one sister, Lydia, thirteen years younger. Her father was a subway conductor, and her mother, who trained as a nurse, stayed at home to raise her daughters. The household, while not wealthy, was solidly middle class.
At the age of ten, Carroll won a music scholarship through an organization affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera. At fourteen, she got her first modeling job with Ebony magazine and by the age of ...
Courtney Q. Shah
singer and actress. Carol Diahann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York. As a teenager she performed as a nightclub singer and a model while attending the famous New York High School of Music and Art. She made her film debut in 1954 in Carmen Jones, working with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Paired again with Dandridge, Carroll had a role in Porgy and Bess (1959). Film and television appearances continued, including an Emmy nomination in 1963 for her work in the crime drama Naked City.
In 1968 Carroll made television history by becoming the first black actress to star in her own series. NBC's Julia received both popular praise and critical acclaim, and Carroll received an Emmy nomination in its first year. Generations of African American performers remember Carroll's Julia as a turning point providing inspiration that roles for black actors ...
actor on stage, screen, television, and radio, was born in Meridian, Mississippi, where his father was a dentist and his mother a schoolteacher. Their names are not known. He attended Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he received a BA in 1931. Though Childress had intended to become a doctor when he entered college, he moved to New York City only months after graduation to begin an acting career. He performed on Broadway in stylized, sometimes stereotypical, roles in such plays as Savage Rhythm (1932), Brown Sugar (1937), and Two on an Island (1940). He also appeared in a number of New York-produced all-black films, including Dixie Love (1933), Hell's Alley (1938), and Keep Punching (1939).
For a good deal of his career Childress was affiliated with Off Broadway acting companies He joined the Federal Theater ...
actor and comedian. Alvin Childress, best known for his portrayal of Amos Jones in the controversial television version of the Amos ’n’ Andy Show, stumbled into acting almost accidentally. Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Childress was the youngest of three children. His mother taught school and his father was a dentist. Childress graduated in 1931 from Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, having taken numerous premedical science courses. Childress had also taken an active interest in campus theater productions that Venzalla Jones directed. Jones thought that Childress showed enough potential to become an actor on stage.
Alvin's mother, Beatrice Childress, in addition to teaching, was also a home demonstration agent for Coahoma County, Mississippi. After Alvin graduated from college, she encouraged him to become an agent as well. However, Jones, who had gone to New York to join the cast of a play called Wharf Nigger recommended ...
Moroccan novelist, dramatist, and radio commentator and producer, was born on 15 July 1926 in the French Moroccan town of Mazagan (present-day el-Jadida), near Casablanca. His father was a fairly liberal tea merchant who regarded European education as a vestibule to a better Moroccan society. As a young boy Chraïbi received his early education in a local qurʾanic school, but when the family moved to Casablanca a little later, he joined a French school. In 1946 he left for Paris to study chemical engineering, graduating in 1950. However, he abandoned his graduate studies in neuropsychiatry just before receiving his doctorate. He traveled across Europe and to Israel, settling in France with his first wife, Catherine Chraïbi (née Birckel), and their children.
From 1952 Chraïbi devoted himself to literature and journalism, and in 1954 he began writing for the National Radio and Television Broadcasting System Ranging from epics to comedy ...
Steven J. Niven and Kirsten Condry
puppeteer, children's entertainer, and voice of Elmo on public television's Sesame Street, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the third of four children of George Clash, a flash welder operator, and Gladys Clash, a daycare provider. Clash grew up in Turner Station, Maryland, a mainly black, working-class, semirural community on Chesapeake Bay, ten miles from downtown Baltimore.
His interest in puppetry and in entertaining children began at an early age. He learned to understand children from living with his mother, who provided daycare in her own home. Clash observed children at close quarters and eventually learned how to entertain them. As a six-year-old, he became fascinated with children's puppet shows on television, sitting close to the screen trying to figure out how to make the puppets he saw on Kukla, Fran & Ollie, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, and, after 1970, Sesame Street ...