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Rob Fink

The first image of an African American in film occurred in 1903 with the silent movie Uncle Tom's Cabin. The twelve-minute-long movie, though, starred a white actor in blackface as the title character. For African American actors and actresses, the opportunity to appear in films, and subsequently in television and serious theater productions, took a while to develop. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the white actors who portrayed black characters, such as those who performed in D. W. Griffith'sThe Birth of a Nation in 1915, established several derogatory characters. Over the next century, black actors and actresses found themselves working against these stereotypes.

The practice of excluding African Americans from performing began during the post Civil War period and extended to all forms of acting In Wild West shows and circuses black actors and actresses were almost nonexistent The African Americans who appeared usually ...

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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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Miles M. Jackson

explorer and businessman, was born a slave in German Flats, New York. He was owned by the Dougal family and spent his youth in Schenectady. It is very likely his mother was a slave (New York did not abolish slavery until 1827); his father was a freeman and a mariner. Following the death of his master, he was purchased by another owner. After gaining his freedom in 1796, Allen arrived in Boston in 1800 and went to sea just as his father had done. Indeed, many African Americans living in Boston had ties to the maritime industry in some way. Like other black mariners, Allen faced the risk of reenslavement when he traveled to Southern ports. Once he was saved from imprisonment by one of the ship's owners, who paid $300 for his release.

Allen's years at sea between 1800 and 1810 provided him with unique experiences ...

Article

On January 1, 1992, the two black-owned radio networks in the United States, the National Black Network and the Sheridan Broadcasting Network, merged to become the American Urban Radio Networks. The merger represented the culmination of the effort by African Americans to participate fully in radio broadcasting.

The history of African Americans in radio can be organized into three broad categories: blackface radio, from 1920 to 1941; black-appeal radio, from 1942 to 1969; and black-controlled radio, from 1970 to the present Blackface radio describes the period during which African Americans neither provided nor consumed radio based entertainment Only one in ten black households owned a radio and blacks were generally represented by white actors and musicians in the minstrel tradition an imitation of African American culture The black performers who worked in radio tended to be cast in stereotypical roles Black humor was widely imitated most ...

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Alonford James Robinson

The Sam ‘n’ Henry radio show, as it was first called, was created in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, by two white entertainers, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. The show portrayed its two African American characters in full racial stereotype, complete with broken English. In 1928 the characters were renamed Amos ‘n’ Andy and were crafted to reflect white stereotypes of African American life and culture in Harlem, New York, in the years immediately following the Great Migration, the mass movement of blacks from the South to the North in the early twentieth century. While Amos was portrayed as weak and submissive, Andy was lazy and pretentious. Together, they were bumbling fools. When the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) acquired the radio program in 1929, they became a national comic sensation.

Due to its great popularity the show was played on the radio in many of the country ...

Article

Frank E. Dobson

Amos ’n’ Andy, both the radio show and the television show that followed, is a name that conjures up racial stereotypes. Amos ’n’ Andy was one of the twentieth century's most popular and controversial comedy shows depicting black characters.

The show was the creation of two enterprising white actors and musicians, Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll. In 1925 Gosden and Correll debuted as musicians on WGN radio in Chicago. After discussions with station management regarding a new radio show, the pair suggested a blackface minstrel show in which they would play black characters. The original names of the characters were Sam and Henry; Sam ’n’ Henry debuted on 12 January 1926. The show used stereotypical representations of black speech and black urban life.

Sam ’n’ Henry ran on WGN for two years and was quite successful Some critics such as Mel Watkins suggest that the ...

Article

Maria Stilson

actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...

Article

George H. Douglas

radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family. His father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, a job that, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio.

Between 1923 and 1933 Anderson's older brother Cornelius had a career in vaudeville as a song and dance man, and Eddie, who had little formal education, joined him occasionally. With vaudeville dying, however, Eddie drifted toward Hollywood. In the depths of the Depression, pickings were slim. His first movie appearance was in 1932 in What Price Hollywood? For a few years he had only bit parts but then he secured a major role in ...

Article

The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.

Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

musician and actress, was born Erica Abi Wright in Dallas, Texas, the eldest of three children born to Kolleen Maria Gipson and William Wright Jr. Young Erica's mother worked as a theatrical performer while her maternal grandmother helped to raise the Wright children. Eevin, her brother, was the youngest sibling. The Wright daughters, like their mother, embraced the arts: Koryan, her younger sister, was a singer who would later perform background for Erica under the stage name Nayrok Udab.

At the young age of four, Erica was already exhibiting theatrical and artistic tendencies and began singing and dancing with her mother at the Dallas Theater Center. She was in first grade when her appearance in a Christmas play inspired her early desire to perform onstage. Erica was introduced by her mother to a diverse array of artists who influenced her musical palate, such as Ella Fitzgerald Pink Floyd ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Clayton Bates was born in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He lost his leg in a cottonseed mill accident at age twelve but decided at age fifteen to tour the country with a homemade wooden leg. Bates worked as a minstrel in racially integrated vaudeville circuits. He danced in Harlem ...

Article

C. S'thembile West

choreographer, dancer, and teacher, was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, the son of a housepainter. His parents' names are unknown. In the small town of Cedar Grove, right outside Shreveport, Beatty's earliest dance influence was the legendary Katherine Dunham. According to the historian Joe Nash, a close friend and colleague of Beatty, Dunham invited him to “watch dances in progress” when he was eleven years old. Dunham was in rehearsal for Ruth Page'sLa Guillablesse, scheduled to open at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1933, and was trying to keep the young boy's playing from disrupting her work. Beatty danced onstage for the first time in the opera's 1934 season and emerged as a dancer of note after studying from 1937 to 1940 at Dunham's Studio de la Danse in Shreveport. He danced the role of a priest in Dunham'sYanvalou a ...

Article

Greer C. Bosworth

attorney, was born Sherry Franchesca Bellamy in Harlem, New York, the youngest of seven children of Athelston Alhama Bellamy and Mary Elizabeth Reeves. Sherry's father, born and raised in Harlem, was a career military officer who served with the Tuskegee Airmen and eventually rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force. After retiring from the military he became a court officer and court clerk in the Civil Court of the City of New York. Sherry's mother was born and raised on a race-horse breeding farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Sherry grew up in Harlem and graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School, a Roman Catholic high school whose graduates include many successful minority judges, attorneys, and other professionals.

In 1974 Bellamy graduated from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, with a BA in Political Science. She later received her juris doctor in 1977 from Yale Law School During ...

Article

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

Timothy J. O'Brien

rock-and-roll pioneer. Chuck Berry is truly the father of rock and roll. His vibrant songwriting, innovative guitar playing, and live performances inspired legions of followers, and he was the single most important figure in defining a new genre that mixed country and rhythm and blues.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born to Henry William Berry Sr., a carpenter, and Martha Bell Banks, a housewife, in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1926. The family belonged to a Baptist church, and Berry's earliest memories were of his parents singing gospel songs around the house. His first try at show business, singing “Confessin’ the Blues” to a friend's guitar accompaniment at a high school talent show, inspired him to play guitar.

While still in high school in Saint Louis he left for a trip to California with two friends When their money ran low they robbed a few small businesses and ...

Article

Jonathan Walton

Black televangelism is a catchall category to describe a range of Protestant and predominantly evangelical ministries that utilize television and/or Webcasts as the primary means of Christian proselytization. This form of religious expression exploded in the final quarter of the twentieth century and propelled the cultural celebrity and spiritual authority of leading televangelists such as Bishop T. D. Jakes and Creflo and Taffi Dollar. Hollywood motion pictures, gospel stage plays, and bestselling publications are just a few of the outgrowths of this ministry form.

Greater inclusion of African American evangelists on white owned conservative Christian networks such as Pat Robertson s Christian Broadcasting Network and Paul and Jan Crouch s Trinity Broadcasting Network can account for in part the expanded opportunities and increased visibility of select African American evangelists Couple this with the expansion of cable networks catering to primarily African American audiences such as Black Entertainment Television and ...

Article

Thomas F. DeFrantz

Afro‐Caribbean dancer and choreographer, was born Percival Sebastian Borde in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, where he finished secondary schooling at Queens Royal College and took an appointment with the Trinidad Railway Company. Around 1942 he began formal research on Afro‐Caribbean dance and performed with the Little Carib Dance Theatre. In 1949 he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had one child. The year of their divorce is unknown.

Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture. In the early 1950s he acted as director of the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. In 1953 he met the noted American anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus who was conducting field research in Caribbean folklore Primus convinced Borde to immigrate to the United States as ...

Article

Mary Anne Boelcskevy

actor and singer, was born Laura Bradford in Quincy, Illinois, the daughter of a Dutch mother and a father with mixed black and white parentage. She grew up in Cincinnati, where she sang in church choirs. Her early family life was difficult, and her father arranged her marriage at sixteen to Henry Ward Bowman, a railroad porter. The unhappy marriage lasted only two years. In 1902 Bowman's dream of a singing career began with her professional debut as a member of the chorus in the Midwest tour of the Williams and Walker Company's production of In Dahomey. The show went on to New York and in 1903 toured England, where it also played at Buckingham Palace for the ninth birthday of the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII.

During the tour of In Dahomey Bowman fell in love with Pete Hampton another performer in the show Soon after ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the “Jay” in Vee‐Jay records, was born James Conrad Bracken in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the youngest son of Junious and Eva Bracken, born respectively in Tennessee and Florida. His older brothers, Herbert and Earnest, were also born in Oklahoma. Before 1920, the family moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where Junious Bracken worked as a porter and owned the family home.

Little has been documented about Bracken's childhood or early adult years. He may have attended Western University in Quindaro, Kansas. The Detroit Singers recalled that he had once worked as a parking lot attendant at the Harlem Inn in Detroit. For a time he made a living selling pots and pans, and was employed by the U.S. Signal Corporation. In 1948 Bracken entered into a partnership with radio WGRY disc jockey Vivian Carter, opening Vivian's Record Shop at 1640 Broadway, in Gary, Indiana.

In 1953 Bracken and Carter ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

broadcaster and civil rights leader, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, one of a pair of twins (her sister was Xenobia) to James Brewster, a Baptist minister, and Lillie Elliott Brewster. In addition to helping her husband run the church, Lillie Brewster administered Indian Affairs in the Muskogee area. For her part, Brady began to play piano in the church but one Sunday chose to skip services (and playing) to instead socialize with friends. She would later credit the resulting lecture from her father for fostering in her a respect for the importance of honoring whatever role she was playing and the faith that others would place in her. Brady attended local schools, and planned for a career in education. She matriculated at Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial College (later Tennessee State University) and graduated with honors in 1952 She then relocated to Chicago Illinois and the ...