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Lois Bellamy

voice teacher, mezzo-soprano, pianist, educator, was one of four children born to Dr. Thomas Nelson Baker and Elizabeth Baytop Baker in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her father's parents were slaves. Dr. Thomas Nelson Baker was born a slave on 11 August 1860 and worked on the farm until he was twenty-one years old. He was one of five children and was the first African American to earn and receive a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University in 1906. In 1890 he received a B.A. from Boston University and a Bachelor's in Divinity from Yale University and studied psychology and philosophy from 1896 to 1900 at Yale Graduate School. He was minister of the Dixwell Congregational Church in New Haven, Connecticut, from 1896 to 1900. He was listed in Who's Who in New England, 1908–1909 and his writings paved the way for the Harlem Renaissance era ...


Robert W. Logan

One of the most successful pop singers of all time, Whitney Houston is the only recording artist to have seven consecutive singles reach number one on the charts. By the early 2000s, she had sold 120 million albums and 50 million singles, and even managed to make a million-seller out of The Star Spangled Banner—twice.

Whitney Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey, to John and Emily (Drinkard) Houston. Her mother was the R&B and gospel singer popularly known as Cissy Houston, and at the time of Whitney’s birth, her father was the executive secretary of the Newark Central Planning Board.

Houston began singing in church appearing with the New Hope Baptist Church of Newark choir from the time that she was nine When she was fifteen she performed with her mother at a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall and began appearing with her at local clubs ...


Alexander J. Chenault

educator and founder of Harlem's The Modern School, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the only daughter of Nora Ethel Floyd and J. Rosamond Johnson. Her father, a singer, composer, and musician, and her uncle, the lawyer and poet James Weldon Johnson, cocreated the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Her mother was a homemaker. Mildred Johnson was married once to Hedley Vivian Edwards, a wealthy Jamaican businessman and horticulturist with whom she had one daughter, K. Melanie Edwards, and whom she later divorced (1963).

When Mildred was very young, the family moved to New York City, settling in Harlem. Mildred was homeschooled through kindergarten by her Bahamian paternal grandmother, Helen Louise Billet an educator herself When Mildred was six she began attending the School of Ethical Culture an elite private school in New York City She grew up in a house ...


Sibyl Collins Wilson

minister and youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was born Bernice Albertine King in Atlanta, Georgia. The youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, she was named after both her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Alberta Williams King and Bernice McMurray. One of the most memorable images of young King was a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of her as a sad girl leaning on her mother during her father's funeral taken by Moneta Sleet Jr. and published in Ebony magazine In the shadow of her father s murder their mother covered King and her siblings protectively as she promoted her husband s legacy Every attempt was made to provide a normal upbringing for her and the other three King children The strength of her family history propelled her desire to chart her professional course in life so ...


Eric Bennett

Bill Pickett invented and popularized “bulldogging,” a method of steer-wrestling inspired by cattle dogs. To bring a bull to the ground, Pickett would leap atop its back, twist its horns with his hands, and bite its upper lip. Pickett initially adopted “bulldogging” working as a ranch hand, but his steer-wrestling skills soon launched him into the Rodeo show business of the West.

Pickett was born near Austin, Texas. He quit school after the fifth grade and began working full time as a cowboy, developing his talents in roping and horsemanship. As a teenager he began performing at carnivals, rodeos, and county fairs throughout the southwest. Initially promoters dressed Pickett as a Mexican bullfighter, obscuring his African American descent for commercial reasons. In 1907 Pickett signed on with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show based in Oklahoma s Cherokee Strip Pickett adopted the name The Dusky Demon and ...


concert pianist, composer, humanitarian, educator, and advocate of Black History Month, was one of three children born to R. Starling Pritchard Sr. and Lucille Pickard Pritchard in Winston Salem North Carolina His parents adopted two children Lucille had a vision before Robert s birth that he would be the first viable African American classical pianist She would place a hand wound Victrola record player close to her stomach so that the baby would be saturated with jazz spirituals and the blues as well as the classical European music of Beethoven Chopin and Mozart Due to Robert Sr s inability to find work and their experience with racism in North Carolina the family moved to Buffalo New York shortly after Robert s birth They soon found out that racism also existed in Buffalo Moreover Pritchard s father could not find work in that city so ...


Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

minister, musician, and photographer, was born in Bayou Rapides, Louisiana, to Irene Lair and Giuseppe “Joe” Nasello. Nasello, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1901, owned a dry goods store in Alexandria, Louisiana, that Willie remembered visiting with his mother from time to time. However, Joe Nasello had another family, and given the mores of the time, “Papa” Joe never acknowledged the two children he fathered with Irene. (A daughter, Alice, was born in 1912.) Although Joe Nasello lived until 1958, it appears that father and son never met face to face nor openly acknowledged their relationship. Seals talked freely yet sparingly of his paternity, and he jokingly noted to his children that he was an “Italian.”

According to Willie, “Seals” was a made-up name that he took from Lucille Ceil a favorite grade school teacher ...


Albert Smith was born in New York, New York He was trained in piano and guitar at the Ethical Culture High School in New York and later studied at the National Academy of Design in Belgium where he twice won the Suyden Bronze Medal After serving in a military ...


Claranne Perkins

entrepreneur, lifestyle expert, author, and model, was born Barbara Smith near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William H. Smith, a steel worker, and Florence Claybrook Smith, a part-time maid. She has described her parents as the original Bob Villa and Martha Stewart referring to the television handyman and the multimedia domestic guru respectively and was greatly influenced by the home her parents established She assisted them in the family s vegetable and flower gardens While in high school Smith studied cooking sewing nutrition and fashion During the same time she took classes at the John Robert Powers modeling school in Pittsburgh on the weekend She completed her modeling studies shortly before she graduated from high school After graduation Smith moved to Pittsburgh where she worked hard to launch her modeling career It was not easy but in the late 1960s after a national ...


Bruce Nemerov

singer, guitarist, songwriter, and evangelist, was born Ola Mae Long in Atlanta, Georgia, to Mary Long, a laundress. Mother and daughter lived in racially segregated Atlanta's Summerhill district, just a few blocks from Decatur Street, Atlanta's black commercial and entertainment center.

In 1922, Ola Mae was put out to work as a cook and housekeeper in the home of Devereaux F. McClatchey, a Southern Bell Telephone executive. This was her first experience living outside the segregated Summerhill neighborhood. The following year she underwent a conversion experience at a revival held at the Fire Baptized Holiness Church, a Pentecostal denomination organized in Anderson, South Carolina, in 1898 and originally an integrated association.

The black members of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church, in response to increasingly strict enforcement of “Jim Crow” laws, in 1908 withdrew and formed the Colored Fire Baptized Holiness Church with ...


Jill Silos-Rooney

singer and songwriter, was born Mary Esther Wells in Detroit, Michigan into a single-parent household. Her mother worked as a domestic, but her name is unknown. As a child Wells survived spinal meningitis and tuberculosis, although she was left with temporary paralysis and permanent hearing and sight impairments. After years of struggle to regain her health, she tapped into her vocal ability; her featured solo performances in her uncle's Baptist church and Northwestern High School's choir in Detroit first showcased her warm, throaty voice. She soon began to sing with all-male vocal groups.

There are conflicting accounts of Wells's start at Motown. In 1959 or 1960 at age seventeen or eighteen she either went to Motown's open auditions or was introduced to Motown founder Berry Gordy by his assistant Robert Bateman to demo a song she had written for Jackie Wilson called “Bye Bye Baby.”

Gordy sensing the potential ...