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Christine Matzke

Eritrean comedian, theater artist, musician, and sports teacher, was born on 1 February 1925 during the Italian colonial period in Eritrea in Abba Shawl, the poor segregated Eritrean quarters of the capital Asmara. His father was Kahsay Woldegebr, and his mother, Ghebriela Fitwi.

At the age of ten he attended an Orthodox Church school and then received four years of Italian schooling, the maximum period of formal education for Eritreans under Italian rule. Thereafter Alemayo worked as a messenger for an Italian lawyer and, at the age of seventeen, found employment as a stagehand in Cinema Asmara, then Teatro Asmara, an imposing Italian theater and center for Italian social and cultural life. Here Alemayo was exposed to European variety shows, operas, and cinema that fascinated him greatly, particularly the genre of comedy, such as the works of Charlie Chaplin and the Neapolitan comedian Totò.

Italian colonization was characterized by strict ...


Kendy Vérilus

was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 20 February 1962, the son of Pradel Batraville, a medical practitioner, and Denise Elysée, a small-business merchant. He received his primary and secondary education at the Petit Séminaire Collège Saint-Martial, an acclaimed all-boys Catholic school in the capital city. While still in school, he published several works, including his first collection of poems in Kreyòl, titled Boulpik, with Éditions Choucoune in Port-au-Prince (1978). This collection was followed in 1979 by Pétition au Soleil, an anthology of French poems printed by the same publisher.

Batraville’s parents sent him to Europe for higher education, hoping that he would return to Haiti equipped with a medical degree and a specialization in cardiology. This was not to be, however, as Batraville instead began the first year of a bachelor’s degree program in art history and archaeology at Université libre de Bruxelles in 1984 ...


Mimerose Beaubrun

was born in Port-au-Prince on 26 December 1918. The oldest of five children of a primary school administrator, he was educated by Jesuits at Petit Séminaire Collège Saint-Martial, which he left after his fifth year for Lycée Alexandre Pétion. He then entered École Tippenhauer, and later École Antonio Vieux. Upon receiving his secondary school diploma, he began studying law. Beaubrun had three children from his first marriage, to Luce Ameris (a talented actress and dancer), and three from his second marriage, to actress Ginette Monpremier.

Considered a role model in the sphere of Haitian arts Beaubrun was by turns a journalist teacher dramatist comedian and actor drummer dancer singer director head of an acting company and satirical author From the age of 13 in his last year of primary school at Petit Séminaire Saint Martial Beaubrun was already displaying his writing talent and publishing a small satirical pamphlet a ...


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 ...


Malinda Williams

poet, short story writer, mythologist, and folklorist, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Cornelius A. Bennett, a baker, and Kerene Robinson Bennett, a seamstress. Bennett's father died when she was just seven years old, leaving her mother to support the family. Bennett received a typical colonial education at St. Simon's College (1933–1936) and Excelsior High School (1936–1938), which greatly influenced her later interest in elevating and legitimizing traditional Jamaican culture. Though in high school Bennett began writing poetry in English, she later switched to writing in West Indian English, which linguists would eventually come to recognize as a language rather than just a dialect.

Bennett also began performing versions of her poems to audiences in high school and her success caught the attention of Eric Coverley who would later become Bennett s husband Coverley a draftsman and impresario organized a popular Christmas concert ...


Jeremy Rich

actor and comedian, was born in the town of Ouragahio, Ivory Coast. His family had high aspirations for their son, and later struggled at times to understand why he chose acting over a professional career. Bohiri used drying racks for cocoa beans as material to make makeshift stages. He watched other performers and rapidly became one himself, especially because he loved to make other people laugh. At the age of ten, Bohiri watched a play by Daniel Adjé that really caught his attention. From 1974 onward Bohiri aspired to be an actor as well At this point Bohiri had not yet even completed his primary education in Ouragahio Once he entered secondary school Bohiri began to perform in numerous theatrical competitions At a performance by comedian Hilaire Gomé Gnohité Bohiri was stunned by how funny the entertainer was With Gomé Gnohité as a model the young Bohiri ...


Joseph Boskin

actor and comedian, was born in New York City, the son of Alexander Cambridge, a bookkeeper, and Sarah (maiden name unknown), a stenographer. Godfrey's parents emigrated from British Guiana in the West Indies to Sydney, Nova Scotia, later settling in Harlem. Although his parents were trained professionals, neither could secure work in their fields. Consequently Godfrey's father became a day laborer, digging ditches, unloading coal cars, and unpacking trucks, and his mother worked in the garment district of New York City.

Critical of Harlem s schools Cambridge s parents sent him to Sydney for grammar school where he lived with his grandparents until he was thirteen years old he then returned to New York to enroll at Flushing High School in Queens He excelled academically and engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities He was dubbed the Unforgettable Godfrey Wonder Boy Cambridge in his high school yearbook which foreshadowed ...


Born in Harlem, New York, to Sarah and Alexander Cambridge, Godfrey Cambridge had an active career in theater, film, and stand-up comedy. He won an Obie Award for his role in the off-Broadway play The Blacks (1961 and he was nominated for a Tony Award for ...


Mary Krane Derr

singer, actor, and comedian, was born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama, one of nine children. Nell's parents were Edna Mae Humphrey, a homemaker, and her second husband Horace Hardy, an Army sergeant. At age two, Nell witnessed his accidental electrocution death. Deeply affected by Dinah Washington, B. B. King, and Elvis Presley records, Nell began singing in her church choir, on a local radio show called the “Y-Teens,” and on the gospel circuit. She never grew taller than four feet eleven inches but had a large, commanding voice and presence. Her show business ambitions made her a “weirdo” in a social environment where “most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses” (CNN.com, Entertainment, 23 Jan. 2003). At age 13, the Presbyterian-raised Nell discovered that one of her grandfathers probably had Jewish ancestry. Although not converting until 1983 she started ...


Mark D. Cunningham

comedian, producer, and actor, was born David Khari Webber Chappelle in Washington, D.C., the youngest of three children. His parents, William David Chappelle and Yvonne Seon, were both educators. His father was a professor of the arts at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and his mother, who earned an MA in Divinity Studies and a PhD in African American Studies, founded the world's first African American Studies Program at Ohio's Central State University in 1974. She also worked closely with Patrice Lumumba, the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the early days of civil unrest in the African country. Chappelle's parents separated when he was two years old. He divided his time between living with his mother in Washington, D.C., and spending summers with his father in Yellow Springs.

Despite his parents professions Chappelle was not an enthusiastic student ...


Eric Bennett

Born in a poor Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bill Cosby left home for a stint in the United States Navy that lasted from 1956 to 1960. He studied at Temple University in Philadelphia but dropped out to devote his time to stand-up comedy. After establishing his name on the nightclub circuit in 1963, Cosby auditioned successfully to fill a guest spot on American television entertainer Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. An instant success, Cosby became the first African American to host the program regularly. In 1965 he became the first black person to have a starring role on a predominantly white television drama, appearing alongside Robert Culp on the program I Spy. Because of Cosby's Emmy Award–winning success on I Spy, many fans paralleled his success with that of African American professional baseball player Jackie Robinson.

As a rising television celebrity Cosby ...


Jason King

actor and comedian, was born William Henry Cosby Jr. in Germantown, Philadelphia, the son of William Henry Cosby Sr., a U.S. Navy mess steward, and Anna Pearl Cosby. Many of the vicissitudes of Cosby's childhood in the poverty-stricken Richard Allen housing projects would be transformed later into fodder for his hilarious comedy routines and television shows. As a youngster, Cosby worked many hours shining shoes and performing menial tasks at a local grocery. He attended the Germantown High School for Gifted Students, where he was elected captain of the track and football teams.

At age nineteen, Cosby dropped out of school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, in which he served for four years (1956–1960). During his stint in the navy, he managed to earn his high school equivalency diploma through correspondence and studied physical therapy. In 1960 with four years of military service under his ...


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 ...


Elton C. Fax

Born in Texas, Sherman H. Dudley, like many Southern blacks who resented being addressed by their first names by whites, used only his initials in an effort to ward off the insult. In the tradition of most black performers of his day he worked the medicine-show circuit. Talented singers and dancers often began their professional careers as performers hired by itinerant street salesmen of patent medicines. The performances were designed to attract prospective buyers to the hucksters' medicinal wares. Most such entertainers of the South were blacks, many of them mere boys.

While still in his twenties, Dudley joined the McCabe and Young Minstrels, working as a comic end man who called himself Hapsy. He followed that stint by teaming with singer and dancer Dude Kelly and performing as a substitute for Sam Lucas at Broadway s Star Theater So successful was the pair of substitutes that they ...


Kevin Byrne

vaudeville entertainer and theatrical entrepreneur, was born in Dallas, Texas. The names of his parents are unknown. Though in later interviews Dudley frequently changed the story of how he broke into show business, his earliest stage work was most likely in Texas and Louisiana as part of a medicine show. This job, in which he played music and told jokes to draw a crowd to the pitchman and his wares, was an appropriate beginning for a man who always sought to be the center of attention. Dudley eventually became an artist and businessman who, as demonstrated by both his actions and writings, was passionately concerned with cultivating the rights and strengthening the dignity of African American performers during an era when what it meant to be a black entertainer was greatly in flux.

Dudley s apprenticeship in the professional theatrical world took place during the last decade of the ...


Theresa Vara-Dannen

banjoist, actor, minstrel comedian, was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Sampson Easton and his wife, Louisa (maiden name unknown). Although there has been some confusion among scholars about his date of birth, the 1850 Federal Census indicates that a male child named “Hoser” (sic) was one year old, living with his Massachusetts-born father, a laborer and later “hackman” (a carriage driver for hire), and his Connecticut-born mother. His paternal grandfather, after whom he was named, was Hosea Easton, the minister of the Talcott Street Congregational Church in Hartford. The first Hosea Easton earned great respect for his groundbreaking work, A Treatise On the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States; And the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them; With A Sermon on the Duty of the Church To Them (1837 The family was also descended directly from James ...


comedian, was born Jodie Edwards in Marietta, Georgia. Little is known about his early life, including his exact birth date, which has been listed as both 1898 and 1895. It is believed that Edwards began performing professionally in carnivals at age twelve with the Moss Brothers Carnival doing minstrel routines.

In 1915 Edwards met Susie Hawthorne, who later became his wife, while they were both working for the Smart Set variety show, which was run by Ma Rainey and performed out of a tent. In 1916 the pair left the show and set off on their own, originally as a dance act. Soon they added comic banter in between their dances. In 1917 they left Smart Set for good and went off on their own as a musical comedy team.

In May 1917 Edwards and Hawthorne were married on stage as a publicity stunt in either ...


Azeddine Chergui and Hassan Bourara

Moroccan comedian, singer-composer, and film director, was born David Bensoussan on 17 April 1971 in Casablanca. His father, a mime artist, instilled in him the love of the stage at a very young age. At the age of seventeen, he moved to Quebec in Canada, a way for him to achieve the American dream without the linguistic requirement. In Canada he was initiated into the theater, had a few experiences with radio, and sporadically performed in cabarets. Intent on becoming a professional, he left for Paris and enrolled in the Cours Florent drama school, from which he graduated two years later.

His first stand-up comedy show, the autobiographical Décalages ensued immediately with a first tour to Quebec Morocco and Paris This show embodies the quintessential Gad Elmaleh a Moroccan Jew proud of his origins confronting new cultures where he must constantly negotiate his own space and define his identity ...


Caryn E. Neumann

vaudeville comedian best known for his signature phrase “Open the Door, Richard!,” was born in El Dorado, Arkansas. (Some sources also give an 1897 date of birth in Des Moines, Iowa.) There is little information available about his early life.

By the mid-1920s, Fletcher emerged as a top comedic talent, albeit one known chiefly to African American audiences. A physical comedian, Fletcher had a good voice and excellent timing. His humor derived from the time-honored formula of making fun of a drunk. He appeared on stage in sketches and monologues, often opening with, “Yeah, it's me, and I’m drunk again!,” before launching into a tall tale. One of the most popular black comics, he also received some criticism from African Americans for portraying a ne’er-do-well. Fletcher made his first, and apparently only, appearance on Broadway as himself in Bomboola the story of a black girl from the South who ...


Debbie Clare Olson

singer, musician, actor, and comedian, was born Eric Morlon Bishop in Terrell, Texas, to Shaheed Abdullah, a stockbroker, and Louise Annette Dixon. His mother had difficulty caring for him after her marriage broke up and so allowed her adoptive parents, Mark and Esther Talley, to adopt young Jamie when he was just seven months old. When Foxx was three years old his grandmother insisted he begin piano lessons, thus sparking Foxx's lifelong passion for music. His grandparents were avid churchgoers and encouraged Foxx's involvement in the church. As a teen Foxx became the director of the church choir and music programs. At Terrell High School he formed his own rhythm and blues band and played quarterback on the football team, meriting attention from the Dallas press.

Foxx earned a music scholarship to the United States International University in San Diego later the Allian ...