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Article

Baker, LaVern  

Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...

Article

Bonetta, Sarah Forbes  

Jane Poyner

Orphan from Dahomey (now Benin) reputed to be of royal lineage, who was brought as a slave to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protégée. Sarah was named, ignominiously, after the ship Bonetta on which she was transported to England. Ironically, she was given to Captain Frederick Forbes by King Gezo of Dahomey in a conciliatory gesture following Forbes's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the King to give up trading in slaves. Forbes, in his account of his travels Dahomey and the Dahomens (1851), used Sarah as an example of the potential for progress in the intellect of the African at a time when pseudo‐scientific enlightenment theories of race were rampant: as Forbes noted, ‘it being generally and erroneously supposed that after a certain age the intellect [of the African] becomes impaired and the pursuit of knowledge impossible’.

Sarah was presented to Queen Victoria and thereafter raised under her ...

Article

Cole, Maria Hawkins  

Andre D. Vann

singer, writer, and socialite, was born Maria Hawkins in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Mingo Hawkins, was a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, which at the time was considered a prestigious position for an African American; her mother, Carol Saunders, was from Bermuda. Maria was born the second of three daughters, and when she was only two years old her mother died while giving birth to her youngest sister, Carol. Immediately all three girls were sent to live with their father's sister, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who was the founder and president of the Palmer Memorial Institute, the nation's most distinguished finishing school for blacks. There Cole was exposed to the likes of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McCleod Bethune, and even Eleanor Roosevelt, among other noteworthy guests.

As a student at the Palmer Memorial Institute Cole ...

Article

Fuller, Charles Henry, Jr.  

Maria Orban

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 ...

Article

Hall, Edmond  

Barry Kernfeld

clarinetist, was born Edmond Blainey Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana, son of Edward Blainey Hall, a plantation and railroad worker, and Caroline Duhé. His father had played clarinet with a brass band in Reserve, Louisiana. Edmond's four brothers all became professional musicians. His brother Herb Hall had a distinguished career in jazz.

Edmond taught himself to play guitar and then one of his father's clarinets. He worked occasionally with such New Orleans trumpeters and cornetists as Kid Thomas Valentine, Lee Collins, and Chris Kelly around 1919–1920. From 1921 to 1923, while with Buddy Petit's band in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast, he began playing alto saxophone as well. He traveled to Pensacola, Florida, with the trumpeter Mack Thomas then joined the pianist Eagle Eye Shields in Jacksonville in 1924 and brought the trumpeter Cootie Williams into the band. In 1926 ...

Article

Long, Sylvester  

Chris Gavaler

author, actor, and Indian celebrity, was born in Winston, North Carolina, the son of Sallie Long, a nurse and midwife, and Joe Long, a janitor. Sylvester's light-skinned mother was born a slave weeks before the end of the Civil War and was the daughter of a plantation owner and an unknown Lumbee Indian. Long's father, also born into slavery, believed his own mother to be Cherokee and his father white Their claim to exclusively white and Indian ancestry established the Long family as the social elite of Winston s African American community After attending elementary school there Sylvester twice joined traveling Wild West circuses where he passed as an Indian and learned rudimentary Cherokee After returning to Winston and working as a library janitor Sylvester taught himself to type at night in the white school where his father mopped floors The principal suggested he apply ...

Article

McCoy, Millie‐Christine  

Cecily Jones

Conjoined African‐American twins who became successful performers. Born into slavery in North Carolina, Millie‐Christine, as the girls were known, were often referred to as one person, and, indeed, often referred to themselves as such. While still in their infancy they were stolen from their parents, sold three times, kidnapped, and displayed as curiosities at fairs and shows across America. Their ‘owner’, the showman J. P. Smith, first exhibited Millie‐Christine as a ‘freak of nature’ to an American public avid for glimpses of this biological phenomenon. At each new venue the girls were forcibly and humiliatingly stripped and examined by physicians to prove to sceptics that the ‘two‐headed girl’ was no fraud.

A rival show owner stole Millie Christine and for two years he too toured America exhibiting them Fearing that they were about to be recaptured from him their new owner fled with them to Britian where they were ...

Article

Robey, Don D.  

James M. Salem

entrepreneur and record label owner, was born Don Deadric Robey in Houston, Texas, the son of Zeb Robey and Gertrude (maiden name unknown). Little is known of his childhood. Don dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade, reportedly to become a professional gambler in Houston nightspots frequented by African Americans; later he was suspected of being involved in the city's numbers operation. He also entered the taxi business prior to World War II and established a business in entertainment promotion, bringing name bands and celebrity attractions into segregated sections of the Houston area.

Though Robey opened his first nightclub in 1937, it was the postwar Bronze Peacock Dinner Club, opened in 1946, that he parlayed into an interconnected set of entertainment and music businesses that made him, according to the Houston Informer one of the city s foremost black business wizards Robey s skill ...

Article

Staples, Mavis  

Eleanor D. Branch

gospel singer, was born in Chicago, the daughter of Roebuck “Pops” Staples, who held a variety of blue collar jobs including work in construction and meatpacking, and Oceola Staples, at one point a laundry supervisor at a Chicago hotel. Born after her parents migrated to Chicago from Mississippi, Staples grew up in an environment marked by a strong sense of faith and family. She was a child in kindergarten when her parents discovered the power in her voice. That power was subsequently honed by her exposure to a wide variety of music including the blues and soul, but especially to gospel.As a youngster, Staples and her sister, Yvonne often spent part of the year in Mound Bayou Mississippi visiting their grandmother In this small town Mavis gained a deep appreciation for the link between music and spirituality Yet it wasn t until she was eight ...

Article

Tia Ciata  

Ben Penglase

At the end of the nineteenth century, just at the time of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro's Praça Onze was the center of a neighborhood composed largely of Afro-Brazilians. Many of these people were recent migrants from the state of Bahia, and the Praça Onze neighborhood became known as “Pequena África” (or small Africa). Tia Ciata moved to Rio from Bahia at the age of twenty-two, and during the day worked selling home-cooked food at a food stall. Tia Ciata was also deeply involved in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. At night and on the weekends she hosted gatherings at her home in Praça Onze that united some of the most famous black Brazilian musicians and composers, probably serving as one of the birthplaces of Samba music.

See also Afro-Brazilian Culture.

Article

Washington-Williams, Essie Mae  

Karen E. Sutton

gained fame in 2003 when she revealed that she was the illegitimate, biracial daughter of the late Strom Thurmond, U.S. senator from South Carolina. America knew Thurmond as a staunch segregationist, and he was the longest-serving and oldest senator in U.S. history, dying at age one hundred in June 2003. Her mother was Carrie Butler, who had a love affair with Thurmond when she was fifteen and employed as a domestic servant in his family home. At the time of their relationship, Thurmond was a single, twenty-two-year-old schoolteacher and football coach at Edgefield High School.

Born in Aiken, South Carolina, Washington-Williams was raised by her maternal aunt, Mary Butler Washington, in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. She met her real mother in 1938, when “Aunt” Carrie came to visit and revealed their true relationship. At age sixteen, in 1941 while in Edgefield South Carolina for a family ...