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Mary Krane Derr

Roman Catholic religious leader, sacred music performer, and social justice activist, was born Bertha J. Bowman in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the granddaughter of slaves and only child of physician Theon Edward Bowman and high school music teacher Mary Esther Coleman. Baptized an Episcopalian, Bertha attended Methodist services. Growing up in segregated, impoverished Canton, Mississippi, she absorbed the spirituality and music of black community elders and her parents' own deep commitments to lives of service. At age ten, she chose to be baptized as a Roman Catholic because she admired the work of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) in Canton. In the face of public uproar, white nuns from this order taught black students at Holy Child Jesus Catholic School. Unable to read after five years of poor quality education in segregated public schools, Bertha finally became literate after transferring to this school in 1949 ...

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Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...

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Roxanne Y. Schwab

dancer and actress, was born Loletha Elaine Falana in Camden, New Jersey, to Bennet and Cleo Falana. Her Cuban father had immigrated to the United States a few years before and was working as a welder, housing the family at the Clement T. Branch Village public housing project in the Centerville section of Camden. A dancer at age three and a singer with the church choir at age five, Falana disregarded her parents' concerns about her future and opted to leave Germantown High School months before graduation to embark on a show business career in New York.

Sleeping in a subway car because she could not afford an apartment, Falana soon landed dancing gigs at Small's Paradise in Harlem and in the singer Dinah Washington's nightclub act. The performer Sammy Davis Jr. recognized Falana's potential and cast her in a feature role in his Broadway musical Golden Boy ...

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Werner Graebner

taarab singer, drummer, and healer, was born in urban Zanzibar. Her parents had migrated to the islands from the Kilwa area of Tanzania on the East African mainland. She is better known as Bi Kidude. Some controversy surrounds Kidude’s birthdate; considering all evidence, the latest she could have been born is around 1920. Growing up in suburban Zanzibar’s Ng’ambo area, she showed interest from a young age in taarab song, a genre of poetry sung to musical accompaniment developed in nineteeth- century Zanzibar. One of her uncles, Buda Suwedi, was a member of Siti Bint Saadi’s group, then the most popular singer in Zanzibar. Kidude attended night rehearsals at Saadi’s place, pretending to sleep in a corner or on the outside baraza bench, soaking up the songs, which still form her main repertoire today.

When Kidude was in her teens, dhows traditional Arab sailboats from all over the ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

preacher, was born Clarence LaVaughn Pitman in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Elijah J. Pitman and Willie Ann Pitman, sharecroppers. Elijah served in Europe during World War I, returned to Mississippi briefly, and then departed. Shortly thereafter, Willie Ann married Henry Franklin, a farmer; the family took his name, and Franklin became Clarence's father. As a boy Clarence usually went to school from December to March, which was when he was not needed in the field. His mother took him and his stepsister, Aretha, to St. Peter's Rock Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir, and eventually became lead tenor. His father, religious but not a churchgoer, exposed Clarence to the blues idiom of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other soulful musicians.

At the age of nine or ten Clarence attended a revival meeting and took his first step toward a career in the ministry when he joined the ...

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Crystal Renée Sanders

Baptist minister and community leader. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was born in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Willie Walker and Rachel Pittman Walker, who were sharecroppers. Before 1920, his mother remarried, to Henry Franklin, who subsequently adopted Clarence. Young “C. L.” picked cotton with his parents and three siblings, which prevented him from completing grade school.

In the summer of 1931, Franklin preached his trial sermon at Saint Peter's Rock Missionary Baptist Church. He served as an itinerant minister for several years at churches throughout the Mississippi Delta. On 16 October 1934, Franklin married Alene Gaines, but little is known about the marriage. On 3 June 1936, Franklin married Barbara Vernice Siggers and adopted her young son, Vaughn. To this union were born four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. Aretha became a Grammy Award–winning singer.

Aware of the limited opportunities and ...

Article

Andrew Du Bois

Born Stanley Kirk Burrell in Oakland, California, MC Hammer made his album debut in 1988 with the self-produced Let's Get It Started. His style—frenetic beats and chanted lyrics—did not impress the Hip-Hop cognoscenti, but the album sold over one million copies and set the stage for one of hip-hop's biggest surprises. Buoyed by the genial dance floor anthem “U Can't Touch This,” Hammer's second album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt ‘Em (1990) held the top spot on the charts for 21 weeks, becoming the biggest-selling Rap album in history.

Hammer was a better entertainer than a rapper his live shows were energetic spectacles intricately choreographed events that highlighted the hugely popular dance routines of Hammer and his massive entourage The artist s videos distilled the live experience into simple but effective blasts that found heavy rotation on MTV Hammer won three Grammy awards two for U Can ...

Article

Judith Weisenfeld

actor, singer, and minister, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Charles Haynes, a bricklayer, and Mary (“Mollie”) Leech, an office cleaner. Haynes was educated in the Atlanta public schools and graduated from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church–affiliated Morris Brown College.

Haynes worked as a porter in Atlanta and as an itinerant preacher before securing a job in the records division at the Standard Life Insurance Company in Atlanta around 1915. Founded by Heman Edward Perry in 1913, Standard was one of the nation's few black life insurance companies, and Haynes gained valuable business experience working with one of the most active black entrepreneurs in America. While at Standard, he also met Harry Herbert Pace, the company's secretary-treasurer, with whom he would later work in New York. Haynes registered for the draft in 1917 and according to one source ...

Article

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues artist, was born Nehemiah James in Yazoo County, outside Bentonia, Mississippi, the son of Eddie James and Phyllis Jones. His father, reputed to be a musician and a bootlegger, moved north to Sidon, near Greenwood, to evade the law, leaving Skip with his mother on the Woodbine plantation, where she worked as a cook. After an attempt to reunite the family in Sidon failed, Skip and his mother returned to Bentonia, where he attended St. Paul School and Yazoo High School. At the age of eight or nine, inspired by local musicians—particularly the guitarist Henry Stuckey—Skip persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. At the age of twelve he took one piano lesson from a cousin. Unable to pay for more lessons, he continued learning on an organ owned by an aunt.

After dropping out of high school at about age fifteen James went to ...

Article

Kevin Sliman

blues musician and preacher, was born in Pelahatchie, Mississippi. His father, a fireman in Jackson, Mississippi, died in 1911 and Lacy was raised by his grandfather, an African Methodist preacher. He attended school for five years and quickly turned his attention to music. Coming from a musically skilled family, Lacy organized his siblings into gospel quartets while his mother or other siblings played harmonica. He learned to play guitar and mandolin in his early teens from a man named George “Crow Jane” Hendrix, a professional musician. His uncle, Herbert Meiels a German who was highly educated and spoke five languages taught Lacy German history and politics At age twenty Lacy moved to Jackson Mississippi to pursue music but stayed only a short time before he began doing railroad work that took him all over Mississippi and then to Iowa Lacy moved to Chicago and lived with Meiels ...

Article

David Michel

bishop, denominational leader, and singer, was born in Windsor, Ontario, one of nine children of Matilda E. and Bishop Clarence Leslie Morton, a minister in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). His father pastored in Windsor and Detroit, Michigan. Morton started singing at an early age and developed his musical gifts while working in his father's Detroit pastorate. By the time he reached his teen years his father had already left the COGIC to lead an independent movement. Morton graduated from the J. C. Patterson Collegiate Institute and attended St. Clair College in Windsor, where he studied music. He started preaching in 1967 and was influenced by his older brother, James, who had become pastor of True Faith Baptist Church in Detroit (1970–1984). Like James, Morton would later pastor a Baptist congregation.

In 1972 the young Morton was called to work ...

Article

David Michel

pastor and church leader, was born in Humboldt, Tennessee, the youngest son of Mary Louise Williams and William Archie Patterson, a pastor in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The family later moved to Memphis, where Patterson attended Lincoln Elementary School. In 1951 he was saved during a revival at Holy Temple, the church pastored by his father. In 1952 the Pattersons moved to Detroit, where Elder William A. Patterson became the pastor of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ. The younger Patterson attended and graduated from Hutchins Intermediate School and Central High School. He also sang with the youth group of his father's church. He received a divine call to the ministry, was licensed by his father in 1957, and entered Detroit Bible College. In 1958 he was ordained and three years later returned to Memphis to serve as co pastor at Holy ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

singer, actress, and ordained minister, was born Delloreese Patricia Early in Detroit, Michigan, the only child born to the union of Nellie Mitchelle and Richard Thaddeus Early. Her mother, who was of Cherokee descent, worked as cook, and her father was a steelworker. Reese grew up in the church and began singing gospel at age six. As a young teenager, she served as a choir director and would often perform on radio. Subsequently, Reese was discovered by the popular gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. At age thirteen, she began touring with Jackson; she graduated from Cass Technical High School two years later and continued touring with Jackson. While a psychology student at Wayne State University in Detroit, at age eighteen, Reese formed her own gospel group called the Meditation Singers, which would become the first group to popularize gospel in Las Vegas.

Reese discontinued her education at ...

Article

Robbie Clark

The multitalented Della Reese is one of the most treasured and well-respected entertainers of our time. Born Deloreese Patricia Early, she discovered her own singing talents as early as the age of six, singing hymns and gospel songs from the bathroom window of her family’s third-floor apartment in Detroit, Michigan. Radio listeners heard her voice over the airways across Detroit when the six-year-old sang as a soloist with the Olivet Baptist Church choir. It was then that family, friends, and neighbors unmistakably recognized her as their very own child prodigy. Her aspirations grew over the years to include writing, acting, and teaching, as well as singing.

Della Reese was born in Detroit. Her father, Richard Thad Early, an African American, was a steelworker. Her mother, Nellie Early was a Cherokee Indian and worked as a housekeeper She had five half siblings When she was thirteen years old ...

Article

David J. Endres

Roman Catholic priest, musician, and composer, was born Clarence Rufus Rivers Jr. in Selma, Alabama, to Clarence Rufus Rivers and Lorraine (Echols) Rivers. Rivers's early life was spent in Alabama. His family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1940, where Clarence enrolled in St. Ann's school, attached to one of the oldest black Catholic parishes in the country. At that time the Rivers family was not Catholic, but when the parish offered to have Clarence baptized, his parents consented and eventually the entire family converted. Rivers continued his education in area Catholic schools through high school. Encouraged by Father Charles Murphy of St. Ann Church, Rivers aspired to become a priest. He entered St. Gregory Minor Seminary, Cincinnati, in 1946 in the eleventh grade and after completion of high school and two years of college was sent to Mt St Mary s Seminary also in ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Willie Mae Ford Smith's involvement with the world of Gospel Music started early; the daughter of the deacon of a Baptist Church, she sang in church as a child. As a teen she was the lead vocalist in a gospel quartet she formed with her sisters. The group performed to great acclaim at the National Baptist Convention of 1922.

Smith was ordained as a minister in 1926, but as a woman was forbidden to preach in the Baptist Church, an edict that prompted her departure from that church in later years. In 1932, along with Thomas A. Dorsey and Sallie Martin Smith formed the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses an establishment credited with the nationwide popularization and development of gospel music She then took on a post as the director of the National Convention Soloists Bureau where she was charged with teaching and ...

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Tammy L. Kernodle

gospel singer and evangelist, was born Willie Mae Ford in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, to Clarence Ford, a railroad worker, and Mary Williams, a restaurateur. The seventh of fourteen children, Willie Mae had varying experiences in her early life as the family moved frequently throughout the Midwest. Clarence Ford worked hard to give his children a stable home. He and his wife were devout Christians whose interest in gospel singing extended beyond their music making in the home to area churches in and around Memphis, Tennessee, where the family moved shortly after Willie Mae's birth.

The vibrant black community and musical environment of Memphis introduced Willie Mae to the two genres that would greatly influence both her musical development and the course of her life blues and gospel singing Willie Mae s experience with the blues considered by most Protestant blacks to be the Devil s music came ...