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Paul Devlin

singer, composer, minstrel performer, street musician, and one of the world's first recording stars and the first African American to make any recording, was born in Wheatland, Loudon County, Virginia, though possibly in Fluvanna County, Virginia. It is unclear as to whether he was born free or as a slave. His father, Samuel Johnson, was listed as free soon after George's birth. His mother was known as Druanna, or “Ann Pretty.” While still a small child Johnson was hired as the “bodyservant” for a young white boy his same age, Samuel Moore. Johnson grew up in the prosperous Moore household and was taught to read and write. He is thought to have spent the Civil War working as a laborer for one or both armies.

Johnson moved to New York sometime around 1873 and began performing on ferry boats. In 1890 ...

Article

Sam Burckhardt

musician, singer, pianist, songwriter, and recording label owner, was born Albert Welton Luandrew in Vance, Mississippi, the son of Thomas Welton Luandrew, a preacher, and Martha Lewis. Best known as Sunnyland Slim, he became one of the creators of and a driving force in post-war Chicago Blues, and towards the end of his life its elder statesman. Albert Luandrew was born into a family of farmers and preachers in the Mississippi Delta. His great-grandfather, a white slave owner, whom Sunnyland would call, “the ol' monster,” had a son, Albert Luandrew, with a slave woman in the years before the Civil War. The elder Albert Luandrew was able to purchase land near Vance, Mississippi, from which he cleared the timber and made crossties he then sold to the up and coming railroads. His father was born in 1887 for his mother precise ...

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John N. Ingham

entrepreneur, was born in Covington, Georgia, the son of Charles Pace, a blacksmith, and Nancy Francis. Pace's father died when he was an infant, but Pace was nonetheless able to secure a good education. He finished elementary school in Covington by the time he was twelve, and seven years later he graduated as valedictorian of his class at Atlanta University.

Pace learned the trade of printer's devil as a youth and worked in the Atlanta University printing office. After graduation he took a job in a new firm established by a group of prominent blacks in Atlanta. Pace served as foreman and shop manager, but the venture was unsuccessful and soon closed. In 1904 Pace became an instructor at the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, where he remained for only a year before W. E. B. Du Bois who had been one of his teachers at ...

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James M. Salem

entrepreneur and record label owner, was born Don Deadric Robey in Houston, Texas, the son of Zeb Robey and Gertrude (maiden name unknown). Little is known of his childhood. Don dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade, reportedly to become a professional gambler in Houston nightspots frequented by African Americans; later he was suspected of being involved in the city's numbers operation. He also entered the taxi business prior to World War II and established a business in entertainment promotion, bringing name bands and celebrity attractions into segregated sections of the Houston area.

Though Robey opened his first nightclub in 1937, it was the postwar Bronze Peacock Dinner Club, opened in 1946, that he parlayed into an interconnected set of entertainment and music businesses that made him, according to the Houston Informer one of the city s foremost black business wizards Robey s skill ...

Article

Antoinette Handy

blues singer, songwriter, and record label founder, was born Victoria Regina Spivey in Houston, Texas, the daughter of Grant Spivey, a straw boss on Texas wharfs and a string player, and Addie Smith, a nurse. She was one of eight children in a musical family. Her father and brothers were members of a local string band, and her three sisters, Addie “Sweet Peas,” Elton “Za Zu,” and Leona, also were singers. Spivey began playing piano at an early age and soon was performing with various local groups, including Henry “Lazy Daddy” Filmore's Blues-Jazz Band and L. C. Tolen's Band and Revue. There followed appearances in vaudeville houses and theaters throughout Texas, Missouri, and Michigan. As a teenager she played piano for silent movies at the Lincoln Theater in Houston.

In 1926 Spivey went to St. Louis with the goal of meeting Jesse ...