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Suzi Takahashi

actor, director, educator, and artist advocate, was born Osceola Marie Macarthy in Albany, Georgia, of black, white, and Native American racial heritage. The daughter of a life insurance executive, Archer attended Fisk University Preparatory School in Nashville, Tennessee. She then enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1909, where she was a pupil of Alain Locke and the sociologist Kelly Miller. Self‐defined as a suffragette, in 1913, her senior year at Howard, Archer and twenty‐one fellow female students cofounded one of the largest black fraternal organizations in the United States, Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority dedicated to community service and the mutual support of African American women. That same year Archer began to pursue her interest in drama by performing the title role in the Howard University Dramatics Club production of The Lady of Lyon a Victorian romantic comedy known as a showcase for actors ...


Wendi Berman

playwright, actor, director, singer, and dancer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the third child of Gloria Diaz Bagneris and Lawrence Bagneris Sr. Bagneris's mother was a housewife and deeply religious woman who “quietly outclassed most people,” and his father was a playful, creative man, a World War II veteran, and lifelong postal clerk. Bagneris grew up in the tightly knit, predominantly Creole Seventh Ward to a family of free people of color that had been in New Orleans since 1750 From the age of six he had a knack for winning popular dance contests and during christenings and jazz funerals he learned more traditional music and dance By the mid 1960s the once beautiful tree lined neighborhood in which he was raised fell victim to the U S government s program of urban renewal known colloquially as Negro removal A freeway overpass was ...


Nancy Kang

playwright, academic, director, and producer, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, near Nashville. One of nine children Bass grew up in a segregated area of the capital, the son of Clarence Bass, a Baptist minister, and Mabel Dixon Bass, a retired schoolteacher and health-care worker. The atmosphere of his childhood home was closely knit and disciplined; life revolved around education and religion. Bass earned his bachelor's degree in Mathematics with honors from Fisk University in 1959. While a senior, he met the Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps, then a Fisk librarian, who brokered the student's formative literary partnership with Langston Hughes. Bass then attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Business (1959–1960 to study finance but quit because of what he felt was endemic racism in the academic and social milieu He received an MA from New York University s Film ...


Casey Kayser

teacher, poet, playwright, and artistic director of a theater company, was born Nora Brooks Blakely in Chicago, one of two children of poet Gwendolyn Brooks and Henry Blakely, a poet, auto mechanic, and insurance adjuster. Blakely's mother was a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, the poet laureate of Illinois, and the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which she did in 1950, just a year before Nora's birth. Nora's father was the author of A Windy Place, a 1974 collection of poetry, and he later founded the Perspectivists, a group of black Chicago writers. As a child, Nora displayed a natural ability and love for reading and writing, no doubt cultivated by her parents' passion for the same.

A propensity for teaching emerged early as well at the age of three Blakely rounded up the children of her South Side Chicago neighborhood and ...


Heather Martin

theatrical producer, director, actress, playwright, and singer, was born in Zanesville, Ohio, one of five children (three girls and two boys) of Harrison James Bryant, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and Edith Holland Bryant, a social worker. The family lived in Ohio, Kentucky, and Baltimore, Maryland. Bryant acknowledged her parents, sisters, and religion as the main influences in her life. Her talent as a singer was evident when she performed in church choirs. After graduating from Peabody Preparatory School of Music in Baltimore in 1958, Bryant attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. She continued her music training at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and studied opera in Vienna and Venice. She toured Eastern Europe with the Robert Shaw Chorale.

With her European training and singing experience Bryant returned to the United States in the early 1960s to pursue a career as an opera singer ...


Sharon D. Johnson

director, playwright, and actress, was born in New York City, the elder of two daughters of upper-middle-class parents, Edgar E. Carroll, a dentist, and Florence Morris, a teacher, both from Jamaica, West Indies. When Carroll was three, her parents sent her and her sister Dorothy to live with their grandparents in Falmouth, Jamaica, while Carroll's father completed his dental training at Howard University. Seven years later Carroll and her sister returned to New York, where their father's dental practice was thriving. The family's town house in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem eventually became a hub of activity that included frequent gatherings of neighborhood children and black community leaders.

Raised to be an achiever Carroll absorbed this intellectually and culturally charged atmosphere Her mother made sure that Carroll took music lessons and attended diverse cultural events particularly those featuring black artists Although Carroll wanted to become an actress ...


David Krasner

Bob Cole was born Robert Allen Cole, Jr., in Athens, Georgia, the son of Robert Allen Cole, Sr., a successful carpenter and political activist in the black community. Cole received musical training in Athens and finished elementary school after his family moved to Atlanta. He made his first stage appearance in Chicago, performing in Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show in 1891; later he became the show's stage manager. He and his partner, Stella Wiley, moved around 1893 to New York, where they performed in vaudeville. Cole and Wiley may have married, but there is no evidence; by the end of the 1890s they had parted company. Returning to Jack's Creole Show Cole soon emerged as the headliner developing his popular stage character the tramp Willy Wayside During the mid 1890s he formed the first school for black performers in ...


David Krasner

actor, director, and composer, was born Robert Allen Cole Jr. in Athens, Georgia, the son of Robert Allen Cole Sr., a successful carpenter and political activist. Nothing is known about Cole's mother. Cole received musical training in Athens and finished elementary school after his family moved to Atlanta. He made his first stage appearance in Chicago, performing in Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show in 1891; later he became the show's stage manager. Around 1893 Cole and his stage partner, Stella Wiley, moved to New York, where they performed in vaudeville. Cole and Wiley may have married, but there is no evidence, and in any event by the end of the 1890s they had parted company. Returning to Jack's Creole Show Cole soon emerged as the headliner developing his popular stage character the tramp Willy Wayside During the mid 1890s he formed the first school ...


Gene Jones

actor, director, producer, lyricist, librettist, composer. Bob Cole was, arguably, the most versatile theater talent of his day, black or white. His array of skills, his ambition and energy, and his showbiz pragmatism permeated the first era of black musical theater. Indeed, the era began when, in 1897, he wrote, directed, and starred in the first full-length black musical comedy. He had hit songs, hit shows, vaudeville and stage stardom, and international triumphs as songwriter and entertainer. If Bert Williams was the face of black Broadway, Cole was its muscle, a multitasking dynamo who could do everything that needed doing to make shows.

Robert Allen Cole Jr. was born in Athens, Georgia, to parents who had been slaves. His father, Robert Cole, was a carpenter who was occasionally active in local politics, and his mother, Isabella Thomas Cole was a housewife ...


Felicia A. Chenier

black theater organizer, writer, director, folklorist, chorographer, and educator, was born in Houston, Texas, the only daughter of Gerthyl Rae and Harvey G. Dickerson, an army officer. As a military child Dickerson traveled extensively with her parents and brother, Harvey. After graduating high school in Syracuse, New York, Dickerson studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there she studied theater and was mentored by noted educator and writer Owen Dodson, who was then the Drama Department chair. Noteworthy of her experiences at Howard is her discovery of writings by Zora Neale Hurston. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) from Howard in 1966, Dickerson received a master of fine arts (MFA) from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, in 1968 During the same year she returned to Howard as an assistant professor of drama and staged her directorial ...


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 ...


Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, director, educator, and screenwriter, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the three children of Lillian (Anderson) and Charles H. Fuller Sr., a printer who instilled in his son the love for words. Fuller was raised in northern Philadelphia in an integrated neighborhood. When he was thirteen he saw his first theatre performance at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The experienced made a lasting impression on him. Later, he became a voracious reader. His readings made him aware of the cultural and racial biases he made his life's mission to correct.

Success did not come easy to him, though. After graduating high school in 1956 Fuller attended Villanova University in hopes of becoming a writer There he was confronted with racism for the first time as a student being told by his professors that writing was not a good profession ...


Pamala S. Deane

actor, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the youngest of fourteen children of Peter Gilpin, a steel mill laborer, and Caroline (White) Gilpin, a trained nurse who worked at Richmond City Hospital. Gilpin attended St. Francis Catholic School for Colored Children, where, through the encouragement of his teachers, he performed in school theatricals. He left school at age twelve to apprentice himself in the print shop of the Richmond Planet newspaper, but left Richmond in 1896 to pursue a career on stage. While earning a living in a series of odd jobs, Gilpin appeared in minstrel shows, reviews, and vaudeville. He joined the Big Spectacular Log Cabin Company and, after this troupe went bust, he was picked up by the Perkus & Davis Great Southern Minstrel Barnstorming Aggregation. This company, too, went bankrupt and so Gilpin supported himself with jobs as a barber and trainer of prizefighters.

In 1903 ...


Charles Sidney Gilpin, the youngest of fourteen children, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Caroline Gilpin, a nurse, and Peter Gilpin, a laborer in a steel-rolling mill. Gilpin's first job, as a printer's assistant at the Richmond Planet, taught him skills that would later be useful between theatrical engagements, but by the age of eighteen he had begun touring nationally with minstrel groups such as the Perkus and Davis Great Southern Minstrel Barn Storming Aggregation (1896) and The Smart Set (1905).

Gilpin's first dramatic appearances were at the Pekin Theater in Chicago (1907–1911)—the first legitimate Negro theater—and with various touring companies. In 1915 he joined the Anita Bush Players at the Lincoln Theater in New York; the group soon combined with the Lafayette Theatre Company, also in Harlem. There, Gilpin was both star performer and director.

Charles Gilpin made ...


Richard Hauer Costa

playwright and actor-director, was born Charles Edward Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming. His stepfather was William Gordon. The boy never knew his biological father and often referred to himself as “part Indian, part Irish, part French, and part Nigger.” With the birth of Charles, the family moved to his mother's hometown, Elkhart, Indiana, where the young Gordon went to school. Shirley Gordon Jackson, the older of his two sisters, recalled that the family then moved out of the “colored” part of town and crossed the railroad tracks to the white side of Elkhart's “Mason-Dixon line.” All of Gordon's school friends were white. He was a straight-A student, “doing everything right,” winning honors in dramatics, music, writing, and debate. He also received sixteen letters in sports and set a school record in the high jump.

Gordon explained that he ...


Charles Leonard

When Charles Gordone became the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1970 for No Place to Be Somebody (1969), New York Times drama criticWalter Kerr described him as “the most astonishing new American playwright since Edward Albee.” The NAACP's Crisis remarked that “Charles Gordone has definitely arrived.” Although No Place was by far Gordone's most successful project, it marked the middle of an extensive career, spanning well over forty years, in writing, acting, directing, and teaching.

Gordone, born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 12 October 1925 grew up in Elkhart Indiana Excelling in academics and athletics he still struggled to gain acceptance in a predominantly white section of town where he lived and among African Americans in the town who questioned his racial allegiance Though his diverse racial heritage excited an early preoccupation with identity that extended throughout his life and ...


Dorsía Smith Silva

playwright and actor. Charles Edward Fleming was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 12 October 1925 to William Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming. He changed his name to Charles Gordon when his mother married William Lee Gordon in 1930. Gordone later added an “e” to “Gordon” for artistic reasons.

After completing high school, Gordone went to the University of California at Los Angeles. Seeking adventure, he left college after one semester to join the U.S. Air Force. Gordone received the rank of second lieutenant but left the military to live in Indiana and marry Juanita Burton. They had two children, but the marriage dissolved because of Gordone's alcoholism. Gordone moved to Los Angeles in 1945 and entered Los Angeles City College. He graduated with a BA in drama in 1952 and moved to New York to work as an actor.

In 1953 Gordone received an Obie Award ...


Rachel Westley

playwright and director, author, and educator, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, to Thelma Inez Harrison and Paul Randolph Harrison. Although he was reared in the North and nurtured by the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, his roots are from below the Mason-Dixon Line, in North and South Carolina.

In the South the Harrison family was strongly immersed in Gullah culture and Marcus Garvey s Back to Africa movement Harrison s grandfather in fact was a major leader of and played an active role in the Garvey movement in North Carolina The household was also greatly involved in the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in the Carolinas and much of the mystical curiosity in Harrison s work can be attributed to his grandmother s spiritual influence He was embraced by this richness as a young man and it created the resonating aura of self ...


Kofi Natambu

actor, musician, and theater director, was born in New York City the only child of Cyril Gordon Heath, an immigrant from Barbados, and Hattie Hooper. At age six Gordon enrolled in the Ethical Culture Society school in Manhattan, a well-known private and progressive educational institution. His musical education began at age eight when an aunt gave him violin lessons. Although he studied other instruments, he was most drawn to the guitar. In high school Gordon won prizes in both art and music and began performing in amateur theater groups, earning first place in a municipal drama competition. After his high school graduation he earned scholarships to two music schools and briefly attended the Dalcroze Institute before deciding to pursue an acting career instead.

When he joined New York radio station WMCA in 1945 Heath became the first black staff announcer at a major radio ...