composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, a pioneering black physician, medical researcher, and author, and Estelle C. Bonds, a music teacher and organist. Although legally born Majors, she used her mother's maiden name (Bonds) in her youth and throughout her professional life. She grew up in intellectually stimulating surroundings; her mother held Sunday afternoon salons at which young black Chicago musicians, writers, and artists gathered and where visiting musicians and artists were always welcomed.Bonds first displayed musical talent in her piano composition “Marquette Street Blues,” written at the age of five. She then began studying piano with local teachers, and by the time she was in high school she was taking lessons in piano and composition with Florence B. Price and William Levi Dawson two of the first black American symphonic composers both of whom were ...
Barbara Garvey Jackson
Alice Childress was never flattered by the litany of firsts that were used to refer to her works She believed that when people have been barred from something for so long it seems ironic to emphasize the first Instead Childress looked to the day when she would be the fiftieth or one hundredth African American artist to accomplish something Long regarded as a champion of the masses of poor people in America Childress wrote about the disparity between rich and poor underscoring that racism and sexism are added burdens forced upon women of color A reticent and private person Childress boldly spoke out in her works against an American government that either exploits or ignores poor people in the name of capitalism One of Childress s strongest convictions was that black authors must explore and include black history in their writings Her sagacity and commitment to preserving black culture and ...
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 ...
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 ...
baritone, concert and opera singer, and master pedagogue, was born in Danville, Kentucky, to John C. and Letitia C. Duncan. John Duncan was a farmer in Danville and soon moved the family to Indianapolis, where he became a chauffeur and butler. Letitia (“Lettie”) Duncan was a well-respected piano teacher and church musician. Unfortunately, the parents experienced marital problems, and Robert, an only child, moved at age seven to Somerset, Kentucky, to be raised by his maternal grandfather, (Robert) Owsley Cooper. Cooper, a skilled brick mason, stone mason, and railroad worker, had a beautiful baritone voice and directed the church choir. Duncan's mother moved to Somerset after her divorce. In 1923 she married John Cambron and returned to Indianapolis.
Music permeated Todd Duncan s life surrounded as he was by his musical parents and grandfather Duncan s parents spent many evenings at the piano which ...
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 ...
singer and teacher, known as the “Black Swan,” was born a slave in or near Natchez, Mississippi. Her father may have been born in Africa, and her mother, Anna, was of mixed ancestry. Various sources offer no fewer than seven different birth dates between 1807 and 1824. Greenfield's use of “Taylor” rather than “Greenfield” in certain documents suggests that her parents used this surname, but little record of them survives.
When their owner, the wealthy widow Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield, joined the Society of Friends and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1820s, Greenfield's parents were manumitted and immigrated to Liberia. Though records suggest her mother planned to return, Greenfield never saw her parents again. She lived with her mistress until she was about eight years old and then rejoined her as a nurse-companion in about 1836 she seems to have lived with relatives in the ...
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 ...
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 ...
composer, was born in Tucson, Arizona, the son of Ulysses Simpson Kay Sr., a barber, and Elizabeth Kay, who was from Louisiana. As a young child he was surrounded with musical sounds—from his parents' singing to his brother and sister practicing music. When it was time for Ulysses Kay to start music instruction, his mother sought advice from Uncle Joe—the legendary cornetist King Oliver—concerning trumpet lessons. King Oliver replied, “No, Lizzie. Give that boy piano lessons so's he can learn the rudiments. And then he'll find what he wants to do in music (Slonimsky, 3). Kay began formal piano studies at age six. Besides piano, Kay also played the violin and the saxophone. He was very active in his high school's musical ensembles, playing in the dance orchestra and marching band. Additionally Kay enjoyed listening to the sounds of the contemporary jazz giants Benny ...
Joan F. McCarty
musician, social activist, songtalker, and scholar, was born Bernice Johnson in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of a Baptist minister, the Reverend Jessie Johnson, and a homemaker, Beatrice Johnson. Johnson was steeped in the traditions and culture of the southwestern Georgia community surrounding Mt. Early Baptist Church. Her home church did not have a piano for many years, so she honed her a cappella vocal skills in the school and church choir.
After graduating from high school, she auditioned for the music program at Albany State College and was accepted, enrolling in 1959 as music major. While in college, she served as the secretary of the youth division of the NAACP and became more deeply drawn into the civil rights struggle. Reagon began to attend meetings of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the city and eventually formed a bond with Cordell Reagon ...
Undoubtedly one of the few professors of history to have a second career as a singer-songwriter, Bernice Johnson Reagon continues to focus her work on sharing the historical legacy of the African American experience amid the relentless quest for freedom and justice within America.
Reagon was born in Albany, Georgia, one of eight children of Jessie Johnson, a carpenter, and Beatrice Johnson, a housekeeper. On days off from her housekeeping job, Beatrice Johnson picked cotton. Jessie Johnson served onSundays as minister at four different rural Baptist churches. Reagon’s musical foundation was largely shaped by the influence of the southwestern Georgia choral tradition in her father’s church, which was part of a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century. Reagon entered Albany State College in 1959 where she studied Italian arias and German lieder as a contralto soloist During this time she became active in the civil ...
Wallace McClain Cheatham
opera singer and college professor, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where his family moved when he was six years old. His mother, Daisy Bell Shirley, was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and died at ninety years of age. She sang in the church choir as a soprano and recited poetry. His father, Irving Ewing Shirley, was born in Summer Shade, Kentucky, and died at one hundred years of age. He was an untrained musician who played guitar, fiddle, piano, and sang bass. An insurance salesman, he remained professionally active in insurance until age ninety.
The younger Shirley encouraged by his musically inclined parents began singing in church at the age of six As a teenager while playing the baritone horn in a community band he decided upon a career in music Shirley graduated from Detroit s Wayne State University ...
performer, author, director, teacher, and social activist, was born and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where her father, Deavere Young Smith Jr., was a self-employed coffee merchant and her mother, Anna Young Smith, was an elementary school teacher and then principal. The oldest of five children (two brothers, two sisters) Smith's principle influences were her family, neighborhood, and church. Until junior high school, Smith's world was almost entirely black. She attended an all-black elementary school and worshipped at an all-black Methodist church. She adored her maternal grandmother, Pearl B. Young, and her paternal grandfather, Deaver Young Smith Sr., and was fascinated by her cousins, aunts, and uncles with their fancy clothes, makeup and jewelry, dancing, and partying. They showed the young Smith life as a kind of theater.Baltimore in the 1950s was segregated not only in terms of race but ...
Born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs in Atlanta, Georgia, Mary Lou Williams began playing piano professionally at age six in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her early influences included Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, and Lovie Austin. As an adolescent, Williams performed in the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) black vaudeville circuit alongside such figures as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and Willie “The Lion” Smith. In 1926, she married John Williams, a saxophonist and band leader.
Williams began arranging in 1929 after she joined the Andy Kirk Band, first based in Oklahoma City and later in Kansas City, composing Blues-based works which influenced the development of 1930s Swing. During the 1930s, she performed and arranged for Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ellington, and others. Williams moved to New York in 1942 and joined Duke Ellington s band as principal arranger ...
independent filmmaker, playwright, director, actor, professor, and community activist, was born in Junction City, Kansas, the son of Lee Douglas Willmott, a hodcarrier and plastic tender, and Ruth Lee Willmott, a homemaker. Junction City, located in the central part of the state, in many ways owes its existence and takes its character from its proximity to Fort Riley, an army post dating from the 1850s that was home to the Tenth Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers, one of two all-black cavalry units created essentially to guard settlers from Indian attack following the Civil War.
Junction City s unusual history helped form Willmott s viewpoint from the beginning Contributing to the early presence of the Buffalo Soldiers in the nineteenth century was a substantial population of African American settlers originally attracted to Kansas as a free state haven for escaped and manumitted slaves As ...