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Bennett, Louise  

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

Article

Browne, Roscoe Lee  

Pamela Lee Gray

actor, voiceover artist, director, and writer, was born to Sylvanus, a Baptist minister, and Lovie (Lee) in Woodbury, New Jersey. Browne attended Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a literature degree in 1946, and went on to do graduate work at Middlebury College and Columbia University. He also studied in Italy. He competed in college track and was the Amateur Athletic Union indoor track champion of the one-thousand-yard run. While attending college, Browne was named an All-American athlete.

In 1946 Browne embarked upon two careers, teaching English, French, and literature at his alma mater, Lincoln University, while also holding a sales position at the Schenley Import Corporation. He left teaching in 1952 but kept his sales job until 1956 meanwhile another profession had caught his attention He joined the acting company at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven Connecticut and then he won his first acting job ...

Article

Carroll, Diahann  

Courtney Q. Shah

singer and actress. Carol Diahann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York. As a teenager she performed as a nightclub singer and a model while attending the famous New York High School of Music and Art. She made her film debut in 1954 in Carmen Jones, working with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Paired again with Dandridge, Carroll had a role in Porgy and Bess (1959). Film and television appearances continued, including an Emmy nomination in 1963 for her work in the crime drama Naked City.

In 1968 Carroll made television history by becoming the first black actress to star in her own series. NBC's Julia received both popular praise and critical acclaim, and Carroll received an Emmy nomination in its first year. Generations of African American performers remember Carroll's Julia as a turning point providing inspiration that roles for black actors ...

Article

Connor, Edric  

Stephen Bourne

Trinidadianactor and singer who settled in Britain in 1944. Two weeks after his arrival he made his debut on BBC radio in Calling the West Indies. Connor's appealing voice and charming personality endeared him to the British public, and he became a major television and radio personality. Connor saw himself as an ambassador for Trinidad and promoted Caribbean folk music and dance wherever he could. He married Pearl Nunez (also from Trinidad) in London in 1948.

For almost two decades Connor played featured roles in a number of British and American films, including Cry, the Beloved Country (1952) and Moby Dick (1956). In 1958, when Paul Robeson turned down the role of Gower in Shakespeare'sPericles for the Stratford Memorial Theatre he recommended Connor for it Connor thus became the first black actor to appear in a Shakespeare season at ...

Article

Cosby, Bill  

Donald Roe

comedian, actor, philanthropist. When Bill Cosby, the wealthy, well-educated, mild-mannered comedian, goes on stage and begins a monologue of funny stories relating to his poverty-stricken background, the stories are most likely true. William Henry Cosby Jr. was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to William Henry Cosby Sr. and Anna Cosby in 1937. Known by its inhabitants as the “Jungle,” the Richard Allen housing projects, where Cosby grew up, were depressing, stylized, beige-colored, concrete housing, seemingly designed to prevent poor people from “contaminating” the rest of society.

When an IQ test confirmed that Cosby was highly intelligent his mother enrolled him in Central High School a school for gifted children However Cosby found it difficult to adjust there and transferred to Germantown High School There athletics provided a positive outlet for Cosby but his academic performance declined When school officials required him to repeat the tenth grade he ...

Article

Davis, Ossie  

Niambi Lee-Kong

actor, playwright, producer, director, and civil rights activist. Ossie Davis, though commonly known for his work in the dramatic arts, was a humanitarian and activist who used his talents and fame to fight for the humane treatment of his people and for recognition of their contributions to society.

Raiford Chatman Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, to Kince Charles Davis and Laura Cooper Davis. Though neither parent was formally educated, Davis's father was a preacher and a railroad construction engineer. Davis's name “Ossie” came from a clerk's misunderstanding the pronunciation of the initials “R. C.” when recording his birth.

In 1935 Davis graduated from Central High School in Waycross, Georgia. He then attended Howard University, where he met Alain Locke a professor of philosophy who had been the first black Rhodes scholar Locke recognized Ossie s talent introduced him to black theater and encouraged ...

Article

Dee, Ruby  

Brittney L. Yancy

actress, writer, philanthropist, activist. Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio. Her parents, Marshall and Emma Wallace, worked as a Pullman porter and a schoolteacher, respectively. As a baby, Ruby along with her family moved to Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Ruby's parents supplemented her education with exposure to the arts. Ruby married Frankie Dee Brown, a promoter for Schenley Distiller's Corporation. Frankie dropped his surname because Ruby preferred the name Dee. They divorced in 1945. Ruby began acting in the 1940s through an apprenticeship with the American Negro Theatre—which included Hilda Simms, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and her future husband, Ossie Davis. Dee's first stage performance was in On Strivers Row in 1940 Dee acted in a series of plays and made her Broadway debut at the Cort Theater in a ...

Article

Edwards, James  

Pamala S. Deane

radio, stage, and screen actor, was born in Muncie, Indiana, and raised in Hammond and, later, Anderson, Indiana. He was the eldest of nine children born to James Valley Edwards, a laborer, and Anna M. Johnson, a domestic (she would earn a degree in theology in 1949). He graduated from Anderson High School, and after a brief career as a prizefighter, earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Knoxville College in Tennessee in 1938. He was employed for a time in the department of industrial personnel at the Calumet Steel Mill and also worked for two years as a district representative for the War Production Board.

Edwards either enlisted or was drafted (his service records were later lost in a fire) in the U.S. Army sometime around 1944 starting as a private in the all black 92nd Infantry Division of the 370th ...

Article

Freeman, Al, Jr.  

Michael Adams

actor, director, and educator, was born Albert Cornelius Freeman Jr. in San Antonio, Texas, to Albert Cornelius Freeman and Lottie Brisette Coleman Freeman. His parents divorced when Freeman was nine, leaving him to shuttle between his mother in San Antonio and his father, a jazz pianist, in Columbus, Ohio. Freeman later said that he regretted never getting to know his father, who died in 1968.

Freeman entered Los Angeles City College in 1951, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1954, and returned to college in 1954, studying theater, broadcasting, and speech. He made his stage debut in a 1954 Ebony Showcase Theatre production of Sidney Kingsley'sDetective Story. Freeman also studied acting in Los Angeles with Harold Clifton, Jeff Corey, and the legendary black actor Frank Silvera. In an interview with Ebony he joked ...

Article

Glover, Danny  

David Koenigstein

actor, activist, producer, and director, was born in San Francisco, California, the eldest of five children born to James and Carrie Glover, lifelong postal workers and political activists in the NAACP and Postal Workers Union. As a child, Glover spent the school year with his parents, living in a government housing project in the Haight-Ashbury district. During summer vacations, however, he stayed with his grandparents on their farm in rural Louisville, Georgia, in the mid-1950s. The Glovers' ride from California across the South was always fearful, as the country was still in the grip of Jim Crow laws Upon their arrival in Georgia they would have to use the back door for restroom use and sit at separate lunch counters apart from whites These experiences stayed with Glover throughout his life and fueled his commitment to civil and human rights causes in the United ...

Article

Morris, Garrett  

Jason Philip Miller

comedian and actor, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to parents about whom little information is available. He was raised by his grandfather, a minister in a Baptist church and the guiding hand who would direct Morris into an early version of show business. Under his grandfather's watchful influence, Morris took up singing in the church choir and showed great flair for performance, even as a young boy. After high school, he attended Dillard University in New Orleans.

In 1958 Morris took part in a National Association of Negro Musicians singing competition, but on his way home to New Orleans, he stopped off in New York City and found a place with the Harlem YMCA Drama Club. The young man who wanted to be a singer had now been bitten by the theater bug. Not long after, Morris found work with the Harry Belafonte Singers with whom he ...

Article

Nnaji, Genevieve  

Jeremy Rich

was born in Mbaise, Imo State, Nigeria, the fourth of eight children born to her father, a banker, and her mother, a teacher on 3 May 1979. Both parents viewed education as extremely important. Nnaji showed interested in drama at an early age and in 1987 at the age of eight was a child actress on the Nigerian soap opera Ripples After she completed primary school Nnaji went to the Methodist Girls High School in Yaba where she had a daughter Chimebuka Nnaji was extremely protective of her daughter s privacy and would not discuss the details surrounding her birth or the name of the child s father Chimebuka was largely raised by Nnaji s parents Nnaji graduated from secondary school and enrolled at the University of Lagos where she focused on drama and the arts She appeared in commercials for products such as Omo washing powder and ...

Article

Souza, Ruth de  

Ruth de Souza was born in Rio de Janeiro and was popular during the 1940s and 1950s. She was among the first members of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theater), founded by Abdias do Nascimento in 1944. She debuted in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones at Rio's Teatro Municipal and was the first Afro-Brazilian actress to perform there on Brazil's main stage. In 1950 she was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at the Karamu House, a cultural center in Cleveland, Ohio.

De Souza began appearing in Brazilian films in 1947 and became known as one of the greatest actresses in the history of Brazilian film. She was nominated as best actress for her role in Sinhá Moça at the Venice Film Festival in 1954, the first Brazilian actress nominated for an international prize. The other nominees included Katherine Hepburn, Michele Morgan ...

Article

Takeall, Arthur Oliver  

Shanteé Woodards

ventriloquist, radio personality, and emcee, was the oldest child born to Bertha and Arthur Takeall in Annapolis, Maryland. His father worked at the Navy Experimental Station, and his mother was a homemaker and community activist. Takeall was a sickly child who stuttered and developed rheumatic fever in the seventh grade. To regain strength from his illness, he ran track at Wiley H. Bates High School, the area's all-black school. He also learned ventriloquism to cope with his stutter. Takeall continued to participate in a variety of sports throughout his life and learned karate from U.S. Marine Corps gunning sergeant Howard George. By the time he was seventeen, Takeall had a black belt and gave lessons to others at the nearby white school, Annapolis High School, in 1964 He also held a variety of jobs including one as a cashier at Dairy Queen which was an ...

Article

Ubesie, Uchenna Anthony   

J. O. J. Nwachukwu-Agbada

Igbo-language novelist, broadcaster, poet, theater director, and cultural activist, was born on 22 February 1950 at St. Barth’s Maternity Home, Asata, Enugu, the capital of now-defunct Eastern Nigeria. Tony, as he preferred to be addressed, grew up under the tutelage of his father, Igbokwuchaaonu Aaron (1910–1984), a public-service artisan and church warden who wanted his third child to be a committed Anglican Christian and an informed Igbo, particularly in the area of Igbo culture and tradition. Ubesie failed neither his father nor his examinations, marked by his Division One result in the West African School Certificate examinations (WASC) of 1966 and a 1980 Upper Second Class Honors degree in linguistics and Nigerian languages from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Before he went to Nsukka in 1976 Ubesie s name was a household word in Igboland as he was already by that time an Igbo language broadcaster He was one of ...

Article

Wahbi, Yusuf  

Joel Gordon

Egyptian stage and screen star, director and playwright, was born in Cairo on 14 July 1898, the son of Abd Allah Wahbi Pasha, a senior engineer in the public works ministry. He later recalled attending his first play, Othello, in Sohag, the Upper Egyptian city where his father was posted when he was a boy. In 1912 the family moved back to Cairo, and Wahbi became drawn to the theater district and began acting. His father disapproved—acting was no profession for an elite son—and sent the boy to Italy to study electrical engineering. Undaunted, in Milan he attended a prestigious acting conservatory. By the time he returned to Egypt, in 1922, his father had died, leaving Wahbi with a substantial inheritance, which he utilized to pursue his artistic dreams.

In March 1923 he founded the Ramsis Theater Company The troupe would become home to many of ...

Article

Winfrey, Oprah  

Stephanie Y. Evans

businesswoman, actress, and talk-show host. In 1994, for her fortieth birthday, Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., and finished in four hours, twenty-nine minutes, and fifteen seconds. Her ability constantly to challenge herself, as exemplified by the Marine Corps Marathon, has resulted in Winfrey's becoming an international icon for motivation, a universal symbol of business savvy and philanthropy, and an unsurpassed representation of popular American culture.

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born to unwed parents in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was an eighteen-year-old domestic worker, and her father, Vernon Winfrey was a twenty year old doing duty in the armed forces Oprah initially was reared by her grandmother on a farm in Mississippi where she reportedly learned to read aloud and perform recitations in church at the age of three From age six to age thirteen she lived in Milwaukee ...