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Ahmad, ʿAisha Musa  

Baqi<ayn>e Bedawi Muhammad

pioneer Sudanese woman singer and activist during the struggle for Sudanese independence and the first woman to perform on the radio in Sudan. Born in 1905 in Kassala City in the eastern region of Sudan, Ahmad was the eldest among her seven siblings, including three brothers and four sisters. Among them was a sister Jidawiyya who played a crucial role with Ahmad in their journey as female musicians. Ahmad’s family was originally from Nigeria and migrated to Sudan in the late nineteenth century as pilgrims on their way to the holy places in Saudi Arabia. Her father, Musa Ahmad Yahiyya, was from the Fulani-Sokoto ethnic group, while her mother, Hujra, was from Hausa. Ahmad’s nickname is Aisha al-Falatiyyia, a reference to her father’s ethnic group, the Fulani, or Fallata, as they are known in Sudan.

The documented history indicates that Sudan served as a crossroads to the holy places in ...

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Barnett, Etta Moten  

Allison Kellar

actor, singer, and philanthropist, was born Etta Moten in Weimar, Texas, the only daughter of Reverend Freeman F. Moten and Ida Norman Moten. The ten-year-old Etta took an active part in church, singing in the choral group and instructing Sunday-school lessons. Standing on a makeshift step stool, in order to be at the same height level as the rest of the choir, she shared her voice with the congregation.

After high school Barnett wedded Lieutenant Curtis Brooks During their seven year marriage she had four children one of whom died at birth Following in the footsteps of her college educated parents she attended the University of Kansas in the 1920s however in order to receive her education Barnett had to sacrifice her conventional family life She divorced her husband and left her three daughters under her parents supervision while she attended school On weekends she cared ...

Article

Barnett, Etta Moten  

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Etta Moten was born in San Antonio, Texas. The daughter of a minister, she married at age 17 and had three children before divorcing six years later. After her marriage ended, Barnett attended the University of Kansas and in 1931 received a B.F.A. degree in music. Her senior college recital led to an invitation to join the Eva Jessye Choir in New York City.

In New York Barnett appeared in the Broadway musicals Fast and Furious (1931), Zombie (1932), Sugar Hill (1932), and Lysistrata (1933). She also sang on the soundtracks of several motion pictures and appeared in the movies Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Flying Down to Rio (1934).

In 1934 she married the founder of the Associated Negro Press (ANP), Claude Barnett During the next several years Etta Moten Barnett gave concerts ...

Article

Belafonte, Harold George (Harry)  

Lawrie Balfour

Harry Belafonte may be best known to audiences in the United States as the singer of the “Banana Boat Song” (known popularly as “Day-O”). However, it is his commitment to political causes that inspired scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to observe: “Harry Belafonte was radical long before it was chic and remained so long after it wasn't.” Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, to West Indian parents. The family moved to Jamaica in 1935 but returned five years later. Struggling with dyslexia, Belafonte dropped out of high school after the ninth grade and, at the age of seventeen, joined the U.S. Navy. The work was menial: scrubbing the decks of ships in port during World War II. Naval service, however, introduced Belafonte to African Americans who awakened his political consciousness and introduced him to the works of radical black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois.

In ...

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Belafonte, Harry  

Ronald M. Radano

(b New York, March 1, 1927). American popular singer and actor. He lived in Kingston, Jamaica, for five years (1935–40), returning to New York in 1940. In 1945 he began a career as an actor, having studied in Erwin Piscator’s drama workshop at the New School of Social Research. He experienced greater commercial success, however, as a popular singer, making his début at the Royal Roost, New York, in 1949. The following year he rejected his popular song repertory and began to sing traditional melodies from Africa, Asia, America and the Caribbean, which he collected in folk music archives. Having secured an RCA recording contract in 1952, Belafonte went on to become the most popular ‘folk’ singer in the USA. His interpretations of Trinidadian calypso music between 1957 and 1959 won him his greatest success and marked the pinnacle of ...

Article

Belafonte, Harry  

Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes

singer, actor, activist, and humanitarian. Harold George Belafonte was born in New York City to Harold George Belafonte Sr., a native of Martinique, and Melvine Love Belafonte, who was from Jamaica. Melvine Belafonte moved her family back to Jamaica in 1935 after rioting broke out in Harlem. Young Harry lived in the Blue Mountains, Saint Anne's Bay, and Kingston before returning to Harlem in 1940. Belafonte, who suffered from dyslexia, dropped out of school in the ninth grade and joined the U.S. Navy in 1944.

The seeds of Belafonte s humanitarian social and political activism began to bloom during his military service His experiences performing the servile jobs assigned to enlisted blacks were eye opening His stint on active duty further shaped his views on freedom and eventually found expression in his music and his causes While in the navy he met a group ...

Article

Belafonte, Harry  

Chris Bebenek

singer, actor, activist, and producer, was born Harold George Belafonte Jr. in Harlem in New York City, the son of Harold George Belafonte Sr., a seaman, and Melvine Love, a domestic worker. Belafonte Sr. was an alcoholic who contributed little to family life, other than occasionally hitting his spouse, and the young Harry was brought up almost exclusively by his mother. Harold and Melvine, who were both from the Caribbean, had a difficult time adjusting to life in New York, and after the Harlem race riots of 1935 Melvine and her son moved to her native Jamaica where Harry spent five years shielded from American racism When World War II broke out the Belafontes returned to Harlem Hoping for better conditions the family would often try to pass for white With white relatives on both the mother s and father s sides they were ...

Article

Benítez Rosado, Luz Esther “Lucecita”  

Rebeca L. Hey-Colón

was born on 21 July 1942 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Her mother, María Rosado, a homemaker, constantly sang tangos and boleros at home. Her father was a merchant marine. Lucecita, as she is commonly known, recognizes her mother as her biggest source of inspiration.

Lucecita’s mother is responsible for setting her musical career in motion. While her father wanted his daughter to get an education and/or open a beauty shop, her mother was convinced of Lucecita’s artistic talents and encouraged her to go on auditions when her father was away. She got her big break on the radio show Buscando Estrellas Looking for Stars Still a youngster and not even tall enough to reach the microphone Lucecita at this point still referred to as Luz Esther stood on a wooden box and sang a bolero titled La barca The Boat Having learned the emotions behind the words from her ...

Article

India.Arie  

Adele N. Nichols

singer, musician, producer, and philanthropist, was born India Arie Simpson in Denver, Colorado, to Ralph Simpson, at that time a basketball player for the Denver Nuggets, and Joyce Simpson, a stylist and fashion designer known as “Simpson.” Simpson's parents named her India because her expected arrival date coincided with Mohandas K. Gandhi's birthday, while Arie means “lion” in Hebrew. From a very young age, she sang at church and home and played the recorder, tenor saxophone, and other wind instruments at school. After Simpson's parents divorced in the mid-1980s, India and her younger siblings, J’On and Kamsai, moved with their mother to Atlanta, Georgia.

After Simpson finished high school in Atlanta in the early 1990s she returned to Denver to attend college but she soon moved back to Georgia after getting a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design SCAD ...

Article

Juste, Farah  

Lauren Eldridge

was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She began singing at age 7 at her local church, Eglise St. Gérard, in Carrefour-Feuilles, a residential neighborhood in south-central Port-au-Prince. After gaining early renown for the writing and performing of politically charged songs critical of the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Juste emigrated to Montreal at age 17, where she studied drama for several years before eventually settling in New York City and later Miami.

In New York, Juste joined Solèy Leve (Rising Sun), a cultural performance collective that the ethnomusicologist Gage Averill has grouped among the politically engaged, often anti-Duvalierist kilti libète free culture organizations that flourished in the diaspora during the 1970s as bulwarks of local Haitian community She sang lead on the final two Solèy Leve albums a standout from these collections was the track Ayiti demen Haiti Tomorrow a collaboration with the poet Jean Claude Martineau and the musicologist Gerdès ...

Article

Makeba, Miriam Zenzi  

Throughout her life and singing career, Miriam Zenzi Makeba has used her voice, which journalist Michael A. Hiltzik described as having “the clarity of a Joan Baez with the timing and throaty authority of a Sarah Vaughan,” to draw the attention of the world to the music of South Africa and to its oppressive system of racial separation, Apartheid. Born in Prospect Township, Makeba became an indirect victim of South African policies at the age of eighteen days when she began serving a six-month prison term with her mother for illegally selling traditional Swazi homemade beer as a result of economic necessity. For eight years Makeba attended the Kilmerton Training School in Pretoria, where she sang in the school choir. During her teenage years, Makeba assisted her mother with the domestic work she did for white families.

She also pursued singing and in 1950 joined an amateur Johannesburg ...

Article

Makeba, Miriam Zenzi  

Lara Allen

South African singer and activist, was born on 4 March 1932 in Prospect Township, Johannesburg, South Africa. Her father Caswell Makeba, who died when Makeba was 6, was a Xhosa teacher. Her mother Christina Makeba, who was Swazi, was a domestic worker and a traditional healer. Makeba went to school at the Kilnerton Training Institute, a Methodist Church school in Pretoria. In 1949 Makeba married James Kubay and gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Bongi. The marriage disintegrated after two years. Makeba supported herself and her daughter by going into domestic service and by singing with a male close-harmony group called the Cuban Brothers.

In 1954 Makeba was invited to join the Manhattan Brothers, South Africa’s top black singing group of the period. The Manhattan Brothers groomed and promoted Makeba as their lead vocalist, effectively launching her career. The group remained together until 1957 during which ...

Article

Ríos, Lágrima  

Eduardo R. Palermo

was born Lida Melba Benavídez Tabárez on 26 September 1924 in Durazno, capital of the department of the same name, in a modest home on Calle Baltasar Brum 66. Her birth certificate reads 8 October of that year, but this was probably the result of an error on the day of registration. When Ríos was born, her mother, Isabella, was only 15. She did not know her father, and her maternal grandparents helped raise her. Her grandmother came from a group of escaped slaves from Brazil by way of the Río Yaguarón. When her grandparents moved to Montevideo, they taught dance steps to other Afro-descendants, members of the black troupes, such as escoberos (tribal chiefs), mamás viejas (respected elder African women), and tamborileros tambourine players Her grandmother one of her most important role models died at age 89 Her mother started a new family in Montevideo and Lágrima took ...

Article

Warwick, Dionne  

David De Clue

singer, was born Marie Dionne Warrick in East Orange, New Jersey, to Lee Drinkard and Mansel Warrick. Her father was a gospel record promoter for Chess Records, and her mother managed and sometimes performed with the Drinkard Singers, a gospel group that featured four of Warwick's aunts and uncles, including Emily “Cissy” Drinkard, the mother of the pop singer Whitney Houston, and Ann Moss (née Anne Drinkard), who were both also members of the famed Sweet Inspirations.

Warwick's early years were spent singing gospel, first in the New Hope Baptist Church choir in Newark and then, beginning in 1959, with the Gospelaires, which she formed along with her sister Dee Dee and her aunt Cissy In the early 1960s the Warwick sisters joined the remnants of the Drinkard Singers to form the Sweet Inspirations and gained enormous success as one of the most used ...

Article

Warwick, Dionne  

Born Marie Dionne Warwick in East Orange, New Jersey, she got her start singing in a Methodist church. In 1960 she met songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who asked her to start making demonstration records with them, and in 1962 the threesome was offered a contract with Scepter Records.

Bacharach and David wrote songs for Warwick that highlighted her diction and mellow alto voice. She remained with Scepter until 1971 and had numerous hits, including the number-one hit “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (1964). In the mid-1970s her career faltered amid family troubles and the breakup of Bacharach and David. In 1979 she again achieved popularity with the number-five hit “I'll Never Love This Way Again.” Other hits after her comeback include “Deja Vu” (1979) and “That's What Friends Are For” (1986).

Warwick has given her money and talent to support hunger ...

Article

Warwick, Dionne  

Eric D. Duke

In a career that has spanned more than forty years, Dionne Warwick has entertained numerous audiences with her musical abilities. Building upon this success, Warwick has used her star power to raise awareness and support for an array of social causes, particularly the fight against AIDS. In doing so, Warwick has solidified her reputation as both a world-renowned singer and humanitarian.

Marie Dionne Warrick was born to Mancel and Lee Warrick. Growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, with younger sister, Dee Dee, and younger brother, Mancel Jr. Warwick was introduced to the music business at an early age through her parents involvement in gospel music Her father was promotion director of gospel music with Chess Records and her mother Lee was business manager for the gospel group the Drinkard Sisters Given the parents devout Methodism and connections with gospel music it is not surprising that Warwick received ...

Article

Wemba, Papa  

James Sellman

Congolese (Kinshasa) popular musician, was born Jules Shungu Wembadaio Pene Thabani Kikumba on 14 June 1949, in Lubefu, a village in the interior of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then the Belgian Congo). His father was a “chief of customs” of the Tetela people and his mother, a professional mourner at matanga, or wakes. Her singing was an important early influence. In the mid-1950s, the family moved to Kinshasa. When he was a teenager, his father died, followed in 1973 by his mother. He began calling himself “Papa Wemba” in recognition of the responsibilities that fell to him as eldest son. After his father’s death, he began singing in the choir at St. Joseph’s, a local Catholic church.

Wemba helped turn Congolese popular music away from the influence of the Cuban son which inspired the Congolese rumba In the 1940s rumbas followed the Cuban template so ...

Article

Wonder, Stevie  

Andy Gensler

songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and political activist, was born Steveland Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, to Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway, who separated early in his life. Steveland came into the world with the odds stacked firmly against him; he was poor, black, and born two months premature with a birth weight barely reaching four pounds. He spent his first fifty-two days in an incubator, resulting in the permanent loss of his eyesight. Stevie was raised largely by his mother under difficult economic and social circumstances. Calvin, a street hustler, forced his wife to work as a prostitute for a short period before the family moved from Saginaw to Detroit's Brewster Housing Projects in 1953. The couple separated shortly thereafter.

Despite his hardscrabble upbringing Stevie never thought himself disadvantaged With unwavering optimism he compensated for his impairment by developing his other senses ...

Article

Wonder, Stevie  

Robert Fay

Stevie Wonder was born Steveland Morris in Saginaw, Michigan. Wonder is one of the most prolific and inventive artists in American popular music and Rhythm and Blues. Blind since birth, Wonder was first introduced to music as a young child and quickly developed musical skills beyond his years. At age twelve he was discovered by Ronnie White of The Miracles and won an audition at the Motown Record Company in Detroit, Michigan. When Motown's founder, Berry Gordy, witnessed the young boy's startling talents, he dubbed him “Little Stevie Wonder.” Wonder was quickly adopted into the Motown “family” at Hitsville Studios. He charmed everyone with his prodigious musical range and lively sense of humor. Although he played the drums, piano, and organ, Wonder's first number-one hit, “Fingertips, Part 2” (1963 featured his exceptional skill on the harmonica which became a trademark of his early career More hits ...

Article

Wonder, Stevie  

David Brackett

(b Saginaw, MI, May 13, 1950). American singer, songwriter, keyboard player, harmonica player and drummer. Blind shortly after birth due to receiving too much oxygen from an incubator, he was brought to the attention of Berry Gordy, the owner of Motown Records who signed him to Tamla records (a subsidiary of Motown), at the age of ten. Wonder displayed his prodigious abilities as a multi-instrumentalist and singer from the start of his career, and had a major hit with the live recording, Fingertips, Pt. 2 (1963) at the age of 13. He did not repeat the success until he emerged from adolescence with Uptight (1966), which featured the manic vocal intensity over a driving dance track that was to become a trademark in other hits from the period 1966–70, including I was made to love her (1967 ...