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Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...


Adele N. Nichols

singer, dancer, ventriloquist, and junk merchant, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, on the eve of the Civil War. To date, questions remain about Harmon's real name, parents, siblings, if any, and childhood. In addition, there appears to be no documentation about his years as a performer. The available information indicates that he worked in show business as a singer, dancer, and ventriloquist. Essentially, he was a well-rounded entertainer who had many talents and a knack for the stage. Harmon was married and had two children; however, the names of his wife and children are not readily available. When Harmon was around 38 and 39, his wife and children died from influenza in 1898–1899, during the Spanish American War. Harmon then moved to Harlem and lived in a two-room apartment.

Around 1910 Harmon having left the stage began a new career with a small cart and a ...


George A. Thompson

actor and singer, is a person about whom little early information is known. He told an interviewer in 1825 that he had been born in Rockaway, Long Island, New York, but James McCune Smith who had known the Hewlett boy suggested that he might have been born in the West Indies. The 1830 census indicated that he was older than thirty-six, and the 1825 interviewer states that he had been a servant to a well-known actor who died in 1812. This all suggests that he was born in the early- or mid-1790s. It also is not known whether he was born slave or free. A number of his ancestors were Euro-Americans, however, as his light skin tone was frequently remarked upon.

As a young man Hewlett worked on boats as a steward acting as servant to the officers and passengers probably out of New York City He also ...


Constance Valis Hill

dancer, also known as “Master Juba,” is believed to have been born a freeman, although neither his place of birth nor the names of his parents are known. He grew up in lower Manhattan in New York City, where he learned to dance from “Uncle” Jim Lowe, an African American jig-and-reel dancer of exceptional skill.

By the age of fifteen, Lane was performing in notorious “dance houses” and dance establishments in the Five Points district of lower Manhattan. Located at the intersection of Cross, Anthony, Little Water, Orange, and Mulberry streets, its thoroughfare was lined with brothels and saloons occupied largely by free blacks and indigent Irish immigrants. Lane lived and worked in the Five Points district in the early 1840s. In such surroundings, the blending of African American vernacular dance with the Irish jig was inevitable. Marshall Stearns in Jazz Dance (1968 confirms ...


David Bradford

singer, dancer, comedian, and songwriter, was born Samuel Milady in Washington Court House, Ohio. Nothing is known of his parents except, according to some sources, that they were ex-slaves. Known as the “dean of the Negro stage,” Lucas was a multifaceted entertainer who was featured in many of the leading minstrel companies and musical plays of his age including Callender's Original Georgia Minstrels, The Hyers Sisters' Out of Bondage, Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show, and Cole and Johnson's A Trip to Coontown. He also was the first black actor to play the title role in a major stage production of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the first African American to have a leading role in a motion picture.

When he was nineteen Lucas moved to Cincinnati where he worked as a barber He sang and played the guitar and soon began ...