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Musical groups

Fisk Jubilee Singers

Vignette Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

In 1866 the Fisk Free Colored School was established in Nashville, Tennessee by the American Missionary Association. Housed in abandoned Union hospital barracks, Fisk set out to educate former slaves with the support of donations from former abolitionists. As those donations declined over the next five years, Fisk fell on hard times.

To save the institution, Fisk’s treasurer, George Leonard White, decided to gamble on the extraordinary voices of the young black singers who had begun to share with him the songs of their ancestors. Over the objections of his colleagues and sponsors, White and his assistant, a frail young African American pianist named Ella Sheppard, led a choir of nine young former slaves (now called the Fisk Jubilee Singers) up from Nashville to perform for congregations in the North along the route of the Underground Railway.

The Jubilees, as they were eventually called, struggled through a schizophrenic world of liberal ministers and adoring audiences, but also poor receipts, and segregated hotels, restaurants and trains. They made their way to New York, where they chose for their debut Steal Away, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and  Deep River, the secret hymns their ancestors sang in fields and cabins and brush arbor churches, the spirituals they were about to introduce into the universal canon of Christian worship,.

Sources: 
Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise: The story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers who introduced the world to the music of black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Martin, Sallie (1895-1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain
 

A gospel singer and arranger, Sallie Martin was born near Atlanta, Georgia.  In her early twenties she began singing in a church choir in Cleveland, and, by 1929, had moved to Chicago and joined a chorus directed by Thomas Dorsey, later known as the Father of Gospel Music.  With him, in 1933, Martin co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.  During the remainder of the 1930s, she served as Dorsey’s song demonstrator and bookkeeper, singing and selling his compositions at churches and conventions.  In some churches Martin encountered resistance, “because, you see, they didn’t like the idea of you having rhythm…but I got saved patting my feet…it would be impossible for me to just absolutely stand still and sing.” 

Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, ed. Black Women in America: an Historical Encyclopedia (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1993); James Standifer,  Interview with Sallie Martin, 1981. African American Music Collection, University of Michigan School of Music, at http://www.umich.edu/~afroammu/standifer/martin.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Whitworth College

Blackwell, Robert “Bumps” (1918-1985)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Bumps Blackwell with Quincy Jones
on Trumpet
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Robert "Bumps" Blackwell was a musician, producer and composer who worked with the top names in early jazz and rock and roll.  Blackwell was born in Seattle on May 23, 1918.  By the late 1940s his Seattle-based "Bumps Blackwell Junior Band" featured Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, and played with artists like Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s and hired on with Art Rupe's Specialty Records.

In 1955, Blackwell flew to New Orleans to record Little Richard (Richard Penniman), a singer who they hoped would become the next Nat King Cole. During a break in the tepid recording session everybody headed to a nearby bar where Mr. Penniman started banging out an obscene club song on the piano. "Daddy Bumps" knew he had a hit so he brought in a local songwriter to clean up the lyrics. "Tutti-Frutti, good booty" became "Tutti Frutti, all rootie," and Little Richard became a star. Bumps wrote or co-wrote other early rock hits including "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Long Tall Sally," and "Rip It Up."
Sources: 
Paul de Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993); http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:cr5j8qmtbt04~T1
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Young, Willis Lester ("Pres") (1909-1959)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lester (Willis) Young, known as "Pres," was born in Woodville, Mississippi and died in New York City. Named Willis Lester at birth, he dropped "Willis" at an early age. Young developed a light tone and swinging style as a member of "territory bands," such as the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, whose members gave him the nickname "Pres" short for President of the Tenor Saxophone -- around 1932. By 1936 he played in Count Basie's Kansas City band and became one of the leading tenor saxophonists of the swing era. Basie's orchestra moved to New York City and Young performed and recorded not only with Basie, but also with most of the leading jazz musicians for three decades. Known mainly for his velocity and swinging style with Basie, in 1937 he recorded several ballads with singer Billie Holiday and pianist Teddy Wilson.
Sources: 
Douglas Henry Daniels, Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester "Pres" Young (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002); Lewis Porter, Lester Young (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985)
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Cole, Nat “King” (1919–1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the
African American Museum of Philadelphia
Jazz pianist and popular singer Nathaniel Adams Coles was born into a musical family in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1919.  His mother Perlina was a choir director in his father Edward’s Baptist church.  His three brothers, Edward, Ike, and Freddy, became professional musicians.  Cole also had a half-sister, Joyce.  The family moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1923 where Cole started playing the piano at age four; he organized his first jazz group, The Musical Dukes, in his teens.
Sources: 
Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro American and African Musicians (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982); Nicolas Slonimsky, Bokers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (London: Schirmer Books, 1984); Jim Irwin and Colin McLear, The Mojo Collection (NY: Cananongate, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Motown Records

Vignette Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
African American History
Kim Weston (with microphone) and Other Early
Motown Entertainers, 1963
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Founded in 1959 by former auto-worker and songwriter Berry Gordy, Jr. in Detroit, Michigan, Motown Records would become the most successful black-owned record label in history. After co-writing hits for Smokey Robinson and Jackie Wilson, Gordy purchased a house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard and began operating Tamla Records (later Motown). The home served not only as a recording studio but also as label headquarters. "Hitsville USA," as it was called, would serve as Motown's headquarters until 1968.

The first hit for Motown was Money (That's What I Want), by Barrett Strong, co-written by Gordy. From there Motown signed many up and coming artists including Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. The Supremes, led by Diana Ross, was the most successful Motown group, and in fact was the most successful female singing group in the history of the recording industry.  
Sources: 
Eleanora E. Tate, African American Musicians (New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2000); Adam Woog, From Ragtime to Hip-Hop: A Century of Black American Music (Detroit: Lucent Books, 2007); Steve Kurutz, "Berry Gordy Jr."  Allmusic.com, 7 Mar. 2007: http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:g96jtr29klox~T1 "Motown." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 7 Mar. 2007:  http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9001781.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jackson, Michael (1958-2009)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Eleanora E. Tate, African American Musicians (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000); Adam Woog, From Ragtime to Hip-Hop: A Century of Black American Music (Detroit: Lucent Books, 2007); Steve Huey, "Michael Jackson,"  Allmusic.com 14 Mar. 2007. http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:aex1z83ajyv5~T1.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Rap/Hip Hop

Vignette Type: 
Misc
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Rap Music, and the culture that surrounds rapping itself, hip-hop, is a genre of music and a lifestyle which originated in the housing projects of New York City in the late 1970s but which now has global influence.  While not without controversy and numerous critics, rap music has emerged as one of the most popular musical forms in the world.  Its reach and longevity have been much greater that most expected when it was a New York City street phenomenon in the late 1970s.

Although no single individual can claim credit for the founding of rap music or the hip hop culture, New York DJ (disc-jockey) Kool Herc is generally considered the most important figure in the early years of the genre.   As a DJ Kool Herc would sample the danceable parts of jazz and funk records, typically the parts featuring drums and a consistent rhythm. These parts were inspired by and helped inspire a new kind of dancing called break-dancing. Kool Herc named the people who would break dance to his music "B-Boys," which was short for break-boys. Kool Herc also spoke and rhymed over the songs he played, which was one of the earliest versions of rapping in the hip-hop style.

While Kool Herc was influenced by funk and jazz records, other pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash were influenced by outside sources ranging from reggae to German electronic music.
Sources: 

James Haskins, One Nation Under a Groove: Rap Music and its Roots (New York: Hyperion Books, 2000); Adam Woog, From Ragtime to Hip-Hop: A Century of Black American Music (Detroit: Lucent Books, 2007).  

Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Def Jam Records (1984- )

Vignette Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Def Jam Records, created by hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons, is one of the most successful black-owned record labels in the history of the United States.  Its success and influence on music and popular culture are paralleled only by Motown Records in the 1960s and 1970s.   

Russell Simmons founded a production company called "Rush Productions" in the early 1980s which housed Run-D.M.C. and Kurtis Blow.  In 1984 Simmons met Rick Rubin, a rap and rock producer who was then attending New York University.  The two met in Rubin’s dormitory room where Def Jam Records was born.

The first single released by Def Jam was "I Need a Beat," by teenage rapper LL Cool J. This single was shortly followed by another single "Rock Hard," by the Beastie Boys. The success of these two singles earned Def Jam a distribution deal with CBS Records which dramatically raised the profile of the young company in the music industry.  
Sources: 
Stacy Gueraseva, Def Jam, Inc. (New York: One World, 2005); Ronin Ro, Raising Hell (New York: Amistad, 2005).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Public Enemy

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Public Enemy, the rap group from Long Island, New York, is one of the most influential groups in the emerging genre of rap music.  Borrowing heavily from the rhetoric of black power, a generation earlier, the group achieved both commercial and critical success.  Public Enemy included rapper Chuck D (Born Carlton Ridenhour on Aug. 1, 1960), rapper/hype man Flavor Flav (born William Drayton on March 16, 1959) and featured Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin in August 1960) who managed and choreographed their backup dancers.

Public Enemy was formed at Adelphi University in 1982 where Chuck D and record producer Hank Shocklee hosted a college radio show. Shocklee encouraged Chuck D to begin rapping and they recorded what would eventually become the first Public Enemy song: "Public Enemy No.1." The song eventually made its way to Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin who immediately signed the group.
Sources: 

Stacy Gueraseva, Def Jam, Inc. (New York: One World, 2005); James Haskins, One Nation Under a Groove: Rap Music and its Roots (New York: Hyperion Books, 2000); Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Public Enemy." Allmusic.com 14 Mar. 2007. http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:48jgtq6ztu4o~T1.  

Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Run-D.M.C.

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Pioneer rap group Run-D.M.C. was formed in the Hollis section of Queens, New York in the early 1980s.  Rappers Run (born Joseph Simmons on November 14, 1964), D.M.C. (born Darryl McDaniels on May 31, 1964), and DJ Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell on October 30, 1965), created the first rap group to achieve both critical and mass success in the emerging genre of rap music.
Sources: 

Stacy Gueraseva, Def Jam, Inc. (New York: One World, 2005); Ronin Ro, Raising Hel. (New York: Amistad, 2005).  

Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jim Crow/Jump Jim Crow

Vignette Type: 
Misc
History Type: 
African American History
Thomas Rice Playing Jim Crow in Blackface, New York City, 1833
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The term Jim Crow originates back to 1828 when a white New York comedian, Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice, performed in blackface his song and dance that he called Jump Jim Crow.  Rice's performance was supposedly inspired by the song and dance of a physically disabled black man he had seen in Cincinnati, Ohio, named Jim Cuff or Jim Crow.  The song became a huge hit in the 19th century and Thomas Rice performed it across the country as “Daddy Jim Crow,” a caricature of a shabbily dressed African American man.
Sources: 
Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Dale Cockrell and Don B. Wilmeth, Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and their World. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Gilbert Thomas Stephenson, “The Separation of The Races in Public Conveyances” The American Political Science Review 3.2 (1909): 180-204; Dance History Archives by Street Swing, http://www.streetswing.com/histmai2/d2rice1.htm ; Jump Jim Crow Lyrics, http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/master/jimcrow5.html .
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Negro Musicians’ Union, Local 493, Seattle

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Also known as the Negro Musicians’ Union, Local No. 493 was formed in 1913 in Seattle. During this time period Locals across the country, under the banner of the American Musicians Federation (AMF), decided to encourage black musicians to form their own unions rather than admit them. From this point on in Seattle the white union, Local No. 76, prohibited black members. Nor could white bands hire black musicians. The neighborhoods in which the bands could perform were also divided by race. Although it was not officially stated, black musicians could not play in downtown Seattle; the so-called “dividing line” was Yesler Way. Some frustrated white musicians such as Ken Boas, Bill Rinaldi, and Traff Hubert actually left Local 76 and joined Local 493 because of this ban.
Sources: 
Paul de Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993); http://www.seattle.gov/music/map/centralarea.htm
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Alphonse Trent Orchestra

Vignette Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
African American History in the West


Jazz arose in 19th century America from music brought from West Africa by slaves.  It is therefore not surprising that the many of the most successful jazz musicians come from the African American communities in the South.  While there is a common belief that Jazz was fermented only in urban centers like New Orleans and Chicago, an entire group of innovative jazz musicians traveled the American southwest in territory bands; bringing into being the “Kansas City” sound.  These nomadic orchestras traveled across the Midwest and south in trains, cars, and buses carrying quality jazz to the public and providing forums for young talent to develop.   Alphonse Trent was one of these “troubadours.”  He was born in Fort Smith Arkansas on August 24, 1905, played the piano as a child and began playing with local bands as a young man.  Trent started his first band at 18 and went on to lead one of the most famous of the Midwest bands, the Alphonse Trent Orchestra.   For ten years, the band traveled the circuit which included Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and the smaller towns in between.

The Alphonse Trent orchestra lasted only ten years and only recorded eight songs but it was a legend in its time.  Over its life, the Trent orchestra featured jazz greats Snub Mosley on trombone, Peanuts Holland and Terrence Holder on trumpets, and A.G. Godley on drums.  Although there were few recordings, the ones that do exist demonstrate the quality of the musicians and the elegance of the group.  Many of the soloists went on to successful careers of their own.
Sources: 

Scott Yanow, Jazz: a Regional Exploration (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006); Potomac River Jazz Club, http://www.prjc.org/roots/williams.html; Doug Ramsey, Jazz Matters – Reflections on Some of its Makers (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1989); Joe Bailey, “The Texas Shuffle”: Lone Star Underpinnings of the Kansas City Jazz Sound. (Journal of Texas Music History: Volume 6, Issue 1, 2006); David Oliphant, Texan Jazz. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Evelyn Bundy Band (c. 1926)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Evelyn Bundy with Her Son, Charles Taylor, ca. 1935
Image Courtesy of Paul de Barros
Formed in 1926, the Evelyn Bundy Band was one of the earliest and most influential local jazz ensembles to contribute to the Seattle, Washington jazz scene.  

Evelyn Bundy, who played piano, drums, saxophone, banjo, and occasionally sang, was born in Seattle into a musical family.  Encouraged by her father, Bundy took up piano and studied with Frank Waldron.  Bundy began performing professionally at the age of 13, with her mother accompanying her to most of her early performances.  At Garfield High School, Bundy formed the band the Garfield Ramblers with classmate and drummer Leonard Gayton.  In addition to Bundy and Gayton, the ensemble included brothers Wayne and Jimmy Adams on saxophones and trumpet, Creon Thomas on piano, drums, violin, and banjo, and occasionally Kenny Pernell on alto saxophone.  Attending gigs in a band member's employer's hearse, the Ramblers performed at high school and club dances and local black society events.  After Bundy graduated from high school the Garfield Ramblers changed their name to the Evelyn Bundy Band.
Sources: 
Paul de Barros, Jackson Street After Hours (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993); Norman H. Clark, The Dry Years: Prohibition and Social Change in Washington (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Holden, Oscar (1887-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of Grace Holden
Oscar Holden, often called the patriarch of Seattle jazz, was one of the earliest of Seattle’s influential jazz musicians.  Holden was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1887. Before moving to Chicago to escape from the South, Holden had played on Fate Marable’s famous Mississippi River riverboats, where legends such as Louis Armstrong would eventually perform.  Holden’s children recall that he rarely talked about his southern life, except to say he purposely did not marry until he fled Dixie, so his children would not be born there.  

Holden played clarinet in Jelly Roll Morton’s band, and arrived with the group in Seattle in 1919.  Although the band moved on, Holden remained in the city.  He did form his own band which toured cities in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.  

Holden was a powerhouse player with a deep classical background.  Another Seattle musician, Palmer Johnson said of Holden: “Anything you set before him, he’s gone!  He had a wonderful musical education.  He was a great, great performer.”  
Sources: 

Paul De Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993); Historylink interview of Oscale Grace Holden, Seattle, Washington, May 17, 2000, http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=2505.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Cotton Club of Harlem (1923- )

Vignette Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
African American History
Cotton Club Orchestra, Harlem, 1925
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Opened in 1923, the Cotton Club on 142nd St & Lenox Ave in the heart of Harlem, New York was operated by white New York gangster Owney Madden. Madden used the Cotton Club as an outlet to sell his “#1 Beer” to the prohibition crowd. Although the club was briefly closed several times in the 1920s for selling alcohol, the owners’ political connections allowed them to always reopen quickly.

The Club was decorated with the idea of creating a “stylish plantation environment” for its entirely white clientele. As with many New York City clubs of the time period, that meant the upper class of the city. The Cotton Club at first excluded all but white patrons although the entertainers and most of staff were African American. Exceptions to this restriction were made in the case of prominent white entertainment guest stars and the dancers. Dancers at the Cotton Club were held to strict standards; they had to be at least 5’6” tall, light skinned with only a slight tan, and under twenty-one years of age.
Sources: 
James Haskins, the Cotton Club (New York: Hippocrene Books: New York, 1994);
http://www.cottonclub-newyork.com/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gordy, Berry, Jr. (1929- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Berry Gordy Jr. in Motown Studio
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Berry Gordy, Jr. was born November 28, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan, the seventh of eight children to Bertha Fuller Gordy and Berry “Pops” Gordy, Sr.  The Gordy parents were strict disciplinarians who encouraged their children to demonstrate a good work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit.  Gordy dropped out of high school to become a professional boxer.  He served in the U.S. Army in Korea between 1951 and 1953 and returned to Detroit to open a jazz music store.  When it failed, Gordy worked on the assembly line at the Ford Plant, but by 1959 he quit that job to become a professional songwriter.  In late 1957 Gordy had his first hit record, “Reet Petite,” for popular rhythm and blues artist Jackie Wilson.  Soon afterwards he wrote “Lonely Teardrops,” Wilson’s greatest hit. 

Sources: 
Berry Gordy, To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1994); Elvis Mitchell, Ben Fong-Torres, and Dave Marsh, The Motown Album: The Sound of Young America (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1990); Bill Dahl, Motown: The Golden Years.  The Stars and Music That Shaped a Generation (Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Coleman, Ornette (1930- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
It may be impossible today to understand fully the shock and outrage which alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1959 arrival in New York caused within the jazz community.  Coleman's innovations freed his quartet from traditional structures of form, chordal harmony, tonality, and rhythm, and though his work has sharply divided opinion, he is widely acknowledged as having transformed the way in which jazz is heard and performed.

Born in 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman began playing tenor saxophone in rhythm and blues (R&B) bands, his own style rooted in the bebop idiom.  Though undocumented, his early development suggests something unique – Coleman was assaulted and his tenor saxophone destroyed after a particularly off-putting dance solo in Baton Rouge.  In 1949 Coleman settled in Los Angeles where he worked as an elevator operator and independently studied music theory.  On the alto saxophone, which remains his primary voice, Coleman developed a plaintively raw and vocalized tone, exploring micro-tonalities and speech-like cries.  In Los Angeles Coleman befriended drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, as well as trumpeter Don Cherry, all of whom would later become mainstays in Coleman’s ground-breaking Atlantic quartets.  In 1958 Coleman found a willing partner in pianist Paul Bley, and with Higgins, Cherry, and bassist Charlie Haden the quintet recorded a live performance at the Hillcrest Club, The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet.  
Sources: 
Valerie Wilmer, As Serious as Your Life (London: Serpent's Tail, 1992); Peter Niklas Wilson, Ornette Coleman: His Life and Music (Berkeley: Berkeley Hills Books, 1999); Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (Eighth Edition) (London: Penguin Books, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Shuffle Along (1921)

Vignette Type: 
Misc
History Type: 
African American History
The Cast of Shuffle Along (1921)
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Shuffle Along, a musical comedy by composer Eubie Blake and lyricist Noble Sissle which featured an all-black cast, was the most significant achievement in black theatre of its time. Shuffle Along opened at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., in late March, 1921 for two weeks. It was later performed at the Sixty-third Street Theatre in New York City, New York in May, 1921.
Sources: 
Anthony Duane Hill, ed., An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Ohio State University

Loudin, Frederick J. (1840-1904)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Fisk University Franklin
Library's Special Collections
Frederick J. Loudin, teacher, impresario, manufacturer and Fisk Jubilee Singer, had a bass voice the likes of which no one would hear again until the emergence of Roland Hayes and Paul Robeson. At thirty-four, he would become the oldest member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ third troupe: a towering, self-assured printer and music teacher from Portage County, Ohio.

Though born a free man in Ohio in 1840, Loudin’s encounters with racism had been searing. His father’s farm was taxed for public education, but his children had to fight to enter school. Loudin proved to be a gifted scholar, but when his teacher rewarded him for his achievements, whites pulled their children out of school. Though his father had donated money to nearby Hiram College, when Frederick applied the college refused to admit him on account of his race. The same held true for the local Methodist Church; though he tithed a ninth of his sparse wages as a printer’s apprentice, the white congregation refused to permit him to sing in their choir.
Sources: 
Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, Jennie (1852 –1910)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Andrew Ward
Jennie Jackson, Fisk Jubilee Singer, folklorist & impresario, was the granddaughter of President Andrew Jackson’s almost lifelong body servant. Jackson’s mother had been born a slave, and her father, George, also enslaved, had died before Jennie was born. But because her mother was the beneficiary of a slave holder’s deathbed manumission, Jennie was born free. The status of Nashville’s freedmen was always precarious, however. When the trustee appointed by her mother’s late mistress tried to destroy the family’s “free papers” so he could re-enslave them, Jennie’s destitute mother fled into the city with her three year-old daughter.

During the Civil War, mother and daughter returned to Union-occupied Nashville, where Jennie was among the first students admitted to the Fisk Free Colored School. Working at her mother’s washboard, Jackson learned many of the spirituals the Jubilees would popularize.
Sources: 
Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Calloway, Cab (1907-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust

Energetic jazz singer, bandleader, performer, and composer, Cabell “Cab” Calloway III was born on Christmas Day, 1907 to Cabell Calloway Jr. and Martha Eulalia Reed in Rochester, New York. Calloway was raised in Baltimore, Maryland and in high school he sung with a group called the Baltimore Melody Boys.

Calloway attended Crane College in Chicago for pre-law but soon abandoned his studies for a career in the music industry, following the path of his sister, Blanche, an established singer. He started out performing for various Chicago night clubs, eventually securing a spot as a drummer and singer at the Sunset Club, a popular jazz venue in Chicago’s South Side. While working at the Sunset, Calloway earned the reputation of being a charismatic, lively performer and in 1928 served as the club’s master of ceremonies. One year later he led the house band, the Alabamians.

Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds., African American Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Jeffrey Lehman, ed., The African American Almanac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003); Colin A. Palmer, ed., Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bland, James A. (1854-1911)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
James A. Bland was an entertainer and a prolific composer who wrote sentimental songs about the American South for use in minstrel shows. Bland was born in Flushing, New York on October 22, 1854 to educated, free parents. He briefly studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C., but inspired by the spirituals and folk songs he heard performed by ex-slaves working on the Howard campus, he soon abandoned academics in favor of a profession in music. A self-taught banjo player, Bland initially sought work at clubs and hotels and then turned his attention to composition and minstrel entertainment.

In the late 1870s, Bland began his professional career as a member of the first successful all-black minstrel company, the Georgia Minstrels. Following the style of traditional all-white minstrel companies, such as the Virginia Minstrels, Bland’s company blackened their faces, painted on red lips, and used stereotypical exaggerated movements and dances in their shows.
Sources: 
David Ewen, Great Men of American Popular Song (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Marshall, Harriet Gibbs (1868-1941)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
A pioneer in the world of African American music education, Harriet Gibbs Marshall was born in Victoria, British Columbia on February 18, 1868 to Mifflin Wistar Gibbs and Maria Ann (Alexander) Gibbs. In 1869 her family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. Marshall began her study of music at the age of nine and continued the pursuit at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music where she studied piano, pipe organ, and voice culture. Graduating in 1889, she was the first African American to complete the program and earn a Mus.B. degree, which at the time was Oberlin’s equivalent of a Bachelor of Music degree.

Marshall trained in Europe after graduating and in 1890 returned to the United States to found a music conservatory at the Eckstein-Norton University, an industrial school in Cane Springs, Kentucky. At the beginning of the 20th century, Marshall held the position of supervisor for the District of Columbia’s African American public schools, Divisions X-XIII, and served as the divisions’ director of music.

To provide African American students with advanced musical training within the conservatory structure, she founded the Washington Conservatory of Music in 1903. It was later renamed the Washington Conservatory of Music and School of Expression when the school expanded to include drama and speech. In establishing a school exclusively operated by African American musicians for the advancement of African American education, Marshall realized a lifelong goal.
Sources: 
Alice Allison Dunnigan, The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Traditions (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1982); Doris E. McGinty, “Gifted Minds and Pure Hearts: Mary L. Europe and Estelle Pinckney Webster,” The Journal of Negro Education 51:3 (Summer 1982);  Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jessye, Eva (1895-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Eva Jessye was a pioneer in the world of African American music and is recognized as the first black woman to receive international distinction as a choral director. She was born in Coffeyville, Kansas on January 20, 1895 to Albert and Julia Jessye, but was raised by various relatives after her parents’ separation. Influenced by the singing of her great-grandmother and great-aunt, Jessye developed an early love of traditional Negro spirituals. At the age of thirteen, she attended Western University in Kansas City, Kansas where she studied poetry and oratory. In addition to singing in Western’s concert choir, she gained experience coaching several male and female student choral groups.
Sources: 
R. Marie Griffith and Barbara Dianne Savage, eds., Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006); Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Jeffrey Lehman, ed., The African American Almanac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Cook, Will Marion (1869-1944)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Will Marion Cook was a talented musician, conductor, and composer born on January 27, 1869 in Washington, D.C. to John Hartwell Cook and Marion Isabelle Lewis. From 1884 to 1887 Cook studied violin at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.  He then studied abroad for two years from 1887 to 1889 at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in Germany, training under Heinrich Jacobsen.

Like Harry T. Burleigh, Cook had also studied under Czech composer Antonin Dvorák at New York’s National Conservatory of Music, and was similarly inspired to experiment with compositions that maintained the integrity of the Negro spiritual. In 1898 Cook’s first composed score, for the show Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk, met with critical acclaim. The show’s successful run at the Casino Roof Garden Theatre in New York established Cook as a gifted composer. He made history with Clorindy by becoming the first African American to conduct a white theater orchestra. In 1899 he married Abbie Mitchell, the show’s leading actress. They had two children together, Will and Marion, but separated in 1906.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds., African American Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Diddley, Bo (1928-2008)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Boxer and singer Bo Diddley (birth name Ellas Bates McDaniel), was born on December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi. He was adopted by his mother’s cousin when the mother’s husband died in the mid 1930s.  McDaniel moved her family to Chicago where young Ellas took violin lessons from Professor O.W. Frederick at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. He studied the violin for twelve years and composed two concertos. In 1940 his sister bought McDaniel an acoustic guitar for Christmas. He soon started to play the guitar, largely duplicating his actions on the violin.  Soon afterward he formed his first group of three named The Hipsters and later known as The Langley Avenue Jive Cats. It was during this time that band leaders gave him the nickname, Bo Diddley.

Diddley recorded his first single “Bo Diddley”/”I’m A Man on March 2, 1955 on Checkers Records. It topped the R&B chart for two weeks.  Soon afterwards Diddley began to tour, performing in schools, colleges, and churches across the United States.  Regardless of the venue he taught people the importance “of respect and education and of the dangers of drugs and gang culture.”

Bo Diddley was known for many new musical styles and innovations. He was one of the first musicians of the 1950s to incorporate woman musicians including Lady Bo. He hired her full-time to play all of his stage performances whereupon she became the first female lead guitarist in history to be employed by a major act.
Sources: 
“Bo Diddley- The Originator.” David Blakey. 1998-2008, http://members.tripod.com/~Originator_2/history.html; “Bo Diddley” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum, http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/bo-diddley; Ben Ratliff. “Bo Diddley, Who Gave Rock His Beat, Dies at 79,” New York Times,
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/arts/music/03diddley.html?scp=1&sq=Bo+Diddley+dies&st=nyt
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Last Poets, The (1968 - )

Vignette Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The Last Poets, a group of musicians and poet performers, originated out of the civil rights movement, with an emphasis on the black re-awakening. The original Last Poets were founded on Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19, 1968 at the former Mount Morris Park (Now Marcus Garvey Park), at 124th Street and Fifth Avenue in East Harlem, New York City. The original members, Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson took the name from a poem by South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed that he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over.  They brought together music and spoken word.

The Original Last Poets would soon be overshadowed however by a group of the same name that spawned from a 1969 Harlem writer’s workshop called “East Wind.” Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole, and percusionist Nilaja are considered the core members of this group. In 1970 this group appeared on their self titled album. The Original Last Poets garnered some attention for their soundtrack to the 1971 film “Right On!” Following their debut album which made the top-ten lists, The Last Poets released The Last Poets (1970) and This is Madness (1971). Due to their politically charged lyrics both groups were targeted by COINTELPRO, Richard Nixon’s counter intelligence program along with other politically active organizations such as the Black Panthers.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hall, Adelaide (1901-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Iain Cameron Williams, Underneath A Harlem Moon: the Harlem to Paris
Years of Adelaide Hall
(London: Continuum, 2002);
http://www.myspace.com/adelaidehall.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Reggae

Entry Type: 
Misc
History Type: 
Global African History
Toots and the Maytals Performing in 1978
Image Ownership: Public Domain



Reggae
, which originated in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1970s, is a by-product of ska and rocksteady music.  While ska tends to be a more upbeat tempo and rocksteady slower, they come together to form reggae.  Reggae’s distinctive sound incorporates the piano, guitar, drums, and bass.  These tempered instruments come together to create a rhythmic and melodic pattern that remains steady throughout the complete song.  While drums create the imbricate rhythms and sliding pitches in reggae songs, the artists tends to use their own voice to create such an effect.

In the late 1970s, Jamaica was going through difficult times both politically and economically.  These conditions inspired reggae as the new genre of music, reggae.  Reggae is said to be an optimistic answer to the numerous years of oppression Jamaica has experienced.  Its upbeat melody was intended to lift the spirits of the poverty stricken and oppressed.  At the beginning of its time, reggae caused much controversy because of its reference to politics and religion; its philosophical and opinionated lyrics caused a worldwide dissemination.

Sources: 

David Katz, Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae (New York: Bloomsbury, 2003); http://lastfm.com.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mayfield, Curtis (1942-1999)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Kembrew McLeod, "Mayfield, Curtis," St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Eds. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast, Vol. 3 (Detroit: St. James Press, 2000); http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/curtismayfield/biography; http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9542244&part=0
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Nelson, Prince Rogers ("Prince," "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince") (1958 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Prince Rogers Nelson, songwriter, singer, producer, and all-round musical icon, was born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Music was a part of Prince’s family; his father, John Nelson, was a jazz pianist whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and his mother, Mattie Nelson, was a vocalist. Prince’s home life, however, was turbulent, and he left home at the age of 12 and was adopted into another family.

From a young age Prince began to teach himself many musical instruments, including the drums, bass, and guitar. While in high school he joined the band “Grand Central” along with Andre Anderson and Charles Smith (who was later replaced by Morris Day). Prince left school at age 16, by which point he had already begun helping to create what would become known as the “Minneapolis Sound,” characterised by industrial-sounding drum machines and synthesizer riffs.

By 1976 Prince was working as a session guitarist for Minneapolis Sound 80 Studios and by 1977, at age 19, he had signed a contract with Warner Records. During this, the early part of his career, Prince  and his “Minneapolis Sound” made the biggest impact on the R&B charts with his debut album For You, the single, Soft and Wet, being particularly popular.
Sources: 
Jason Draper, Prince: Life & Times (London: Jawbone Press, 2008); Alex Hahn, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince (New York: Billboard Records, 2004); Craig Werner, A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006); Last.fm website, www.last.fm/music (2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Cleveland, James (1931-1991)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Aleho Enterprises
Bob Darden, People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music (New York: Continuum, 2004); Akin Euba, Bode Omojola, and George Dor, Multiple Interpretations of Dynamics of Creativity and Knowledge in African Music Traditions: A Festschrift in Honor of Akin Euba on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday (Point Richmond, CA: MRI Press, 2005); Shirley Caesar, Walter Hawkins, James Cleveland, David Leivick, and Frederick Ritzenberg, Gospel [United States]: Monterey Home Video, 1983.
Contributor: 

Stax Records (1957- )

Vignette Type: 
Misc
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Stax Records is an American record company known for its talented, and often integrated, rhythm and blues (R&B) musicians. Founded by Estelle Axton and her brother Jim Stewart in 1957 as Satellite Records, in 1960 the company moved into the Capitol Theater in Memphis, Tennessee. Later that year, a recording made in the new studio of Rufus and Carla Thomas's song “Cause I Love You” gained popularity in the Memphis area which led to a series of deals giving Atlantic Records the distribution rights to future Satellite releases.  The deal provided the young company with a national audience. With national distribution came the revelation that another “Satellite Records” predated the one in Memphis and Stewart and Axton changed their company’s name to Stax, a combination of the first letters of their last names.

Sources: 
Rob Bowman, Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records (New York: Schirmer Books, 1997); Tremolo Productions, Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story (Beverly Hills: Concord, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montana State University

Moten, Benjamin “Bennie” (1894-1935)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra
Image Ownership: Public Domain
As one of the most renowned big-band leaders of the 1920s, Bennie Moten succeeded in developing the “Kansas City” sound in big-band jazz.  Born in Kansas City, Missouri on November 13, 1894, Moten spent most of his youth playing baritone saxophone in the city's numerous brass bands.  In 1918, after switching to the piano and studying ragtime under students who trained with Scott Joplin, he formed the B.B.& D. Trio, who toured the Midwest throughout the 1920s.  In 1923 the trio recorded for the first time for Okeh Records in St. Louis.  Soon public demand for the group's recordings, labeled as jazz music and specifically designed for dancing, made trio leader Moten a popular figure during this time in the South and Midwest.  By 1925 the group doubled with the addition of three new members and the following year it signed with Victor Records.  By this point the band had gained a national reputation.
Sources: 
Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, & Brian Priestly, Jazz: The Essential Companion (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987); Kwame Anthony Appiah & Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); Leonard Feather, The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Horizon Press, 1955).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

McRae, Carmen (1920-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of James Kriegsmann
Carmen McRae, a jazz singer and songwriter, was born on April 8, 1920 in Harlem, New York.  Her father, Oscar McRae, and her mother, Evadne, immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica and Jamaica.  Oscar McRae owned a health club at the McAlpin Hotel in Harlem.  McRae learned to play piano at a young age and she won an amateur singing contest at the Apollo Theatre around 1939.  As a teenager she befriended musician and songwriter Irene Kitching, who helped McRae become involved in the Harlem jazz scene.  McRae graduated from Julia Richman High School in 1938.  She achieved her first notoriety the following year when she wrote the song “Dream of Life” and Billie Holiday recorded it for the Vocalion/Okeh label.
Sources: 
Leslie Gourse, Carmen McRae: Miss Jazz (New York: Billboard Books, 2001); Robbie Clark, “Carmen McRae,” in Black Women in America, second edition, ed. Darlene Clark Hine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Barry Kernfeld, “Carmen McRae,” African American National Biography, vol. 5, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Montgomery, John Leslie “Wes” (1925-1968)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Washington DC
Jazz Network

Wes Montgomery was a jazz guitarist whose natural genius and distinctive sound earned him recognition as one of the most important jazz musicians of the 20th century. Montgomery was born on March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana into a musically inclined family. Although he was given his first instrument as a child, Montgomery’s interest in guitar would not be ignited until he was 19 years old and married. After first hearing records from swing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, he bought an affordable guitar and amplifier and taught himself how to play.  Partly in order to lower the volume for neighbors and because he found it awkward to use a pick, he soon adopted his own style of using his right thumb to pluck the strings. Although somewhat unconventional, the softer and deeper tone it produced still serves as one of his trademarks.

Sources: 
Charles Alexander, Masters of Jazz Guitar (London: Balafon Books, 1999); Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, & Brian Priestly, Jazz: The Essential Companion (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987); Leonard Feather, The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Horizon Press, 1955); Leslie Gourse, Fancy Fretwork: The Great Jazz Guitarists (1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Ink Spots (1932-1953)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire
The Ink Spots, a musical quartet, originally included members Orville “Hoppy” Jones, Ivory “Deek” Watson, Jerry Daniels, and Charlie Fuqua. Some accounts claim Slim Greene also was a founding member. Influenced by the Mills Brothers, all four members sang together under the name “King, Jack, and the Jesters” in 1932.  In late 1933, the group renamed itself the Ink Spots.

The Ink Spots toured Britain in 1934 and their overseas success earned them a recording contract with Victor Records. In 1935, they recorded their first four songs, including “Swinging on the Strings."
Sources: 
Deek Watson, The Story of the Ink Spots (New York: Vantage Press, 1967); Marv Goldberg, More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mills Brothers, The (1925-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Mills Brothers with Unidentified Man in Center.
Image Courtsey of New York World's Fair 1939-1040
Records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York
Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
The Mills Brothers, a musical quartet, originally featured John Jr. (b. 1910), Herbert (b. 1912), Harry (b. 1913), and Donald Mills (b. 1915).  Born in Piqua, Ohio, the Mills Brothers lived with their father John Hutchinson Mills, a barber, and their mother, Eathel Harrington. As children, the Mills Brothers sang at local churches. For extra money, they also sang on street corners and at May's Opera House, a local movie theater, between films. During these performances, the Mills Brothers began to develop their distinctive sound, which would later influence other doo-wop and rhythm and blues performers.  While singing four-part harmonies, John Jr. played guitar and the brothers imitated the instruments of an orchestra, such as the saxophone, trumpet, and tuba.  
Sources: 
Bruce J. Evensen, “Harry and Herbert Mills,” in African American National Biography, vol. 5, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); William Barlow and Cheryl Finley, From Swing to Soul: An Illustrated History of African-American Popular Music from 1930 to 1960 (Washington, D.C.: Elliott & Clark Pub, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hutton, Ina Ray, née Odessa Cowan (1916–1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Susan Stordahl Porter
Ina Ray Hutton led the Melodears, one of the first all-female swing bands to be recorded and filmed.  She passed as white throughout her musical career, as the leader of several bands from the 1930s through the 1960s.  But when Hutton was a child, United States Census records called her and her family “negro,” and “mulatto,” when the Bureau used that term.  Her family occasionally appeared in the society pages of a black newspaper.  As of this writing, other biographies of Hutton do not acknowledge her black heritage.

Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago, Illinois on March 13, 1916.  Her mother, Marvel (Williams) Cowan, was a newlywed housewife, married to Odie Cowan, a salesman.  By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad.  That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home.  When the census taker arrived a few months later, their father was not recorded as a resident of the family home.
Sources: 
Author interview of Susan Stordahl Porter, January 26, 2011.  US Census 1920; Census Place: Chicago Ward 3, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_312; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 135; Image: 882. US Census 1930; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 419; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 85; Image: 53.0; Nora Douglas Holt, “Dancing Dolls a Success,” The Chicago Defender (July 14, 1923, p. 5);  Kristin A. McGee, Some Liked It Hot: Jazz Women in Film and Television, 1928-1955 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Chubby Checker (Ernest Evans) (1941-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Chubby Checker, the man credited with inventing “The Twist,” was born Ernest Evans in Spring Gully, South Carolina. He moved to Philadelphia with his parents and two brothers and attended South Philadelphia High School. Evans aspired to become a performer from a young age and eventually caught a small break after graduating from high school making novelty records that were impressions of singers like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino.

Evans' career took off when he met Barbara Clark, wife of American Bandstand host, Dick Clark. Barbara Clark is credited with giving young Evans his full stage name. He’d picked up the nickname ‘Chubby’ while working in a Philadelphia poultry market. When Barbara Clark met him he was working on his Fats Domino impression at the recording studio. She said “You’re Chubby Checker, like Fats Domino.” The name stuck.

With Barbara Clark's help, Evans got a job recording a Christmas greeting card for Dick Clark’s associates. This record spawned another called “The Class," which contained impressions of famous singers. It was a hit. Unfortunately, Chubby Checker fell into obscurity and his record label was ready to drop him.
Sources: 
John Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997); http://www.chubbychecker.com/bio.asp
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Sugar Hill Gang (1979-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The Sugar Hill Gang, known as the first nationally popular African American hip-hop group, comprised three members: Mike Wright (Wonder Mike), Henry Jackson (Big Bank Hank), and Guy O’ Brien (Master Gee), all from Englewood, New Jersey.  The group is best known for its 1979 hit single, “Rapper’s Delight,” which was also the first hip hop single to rank in the top 40 hits and to become part of a multi-platinum selling album. Rapper's Delight is also credited with popularizing hip hop as a new musical genre.  

Wright, Jackson and O'Brien were discovered and signed to Sugar Hill Records by producer Sylvia Robinson and her husband, record tycoon, Joe Robinson. Sylvia Robinson had become aware of the large block parties that sprang up in the New York area, which featured a new style of music defined as underground hip hop.  Robinson met Wright, Jackson, and O'Brien at one of these parties where the three were performers and signed them to the Sugar Hill label.  They were given the stage name, Sugar Hill Gang and soon afterward they recorded "Rapper's Delight."

Sources: 
Sugar Hill Gang Biography: www.oldschoolhiphop.com/artists/emcees/sugarhillgang.htm;http://www.oldschoolhiphop.com/features/rappersdelight.htm; http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/bio/index.jsp?pid=331365;
http://new.music.yahoo.com/sugarhillang/biography/www.starpulse.com/Music/Sugarhill/Gang.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Simmons, Russell (1957– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Russell Simmons, a multimillionaire who is estimated to be the third wealthiest man in the Hip-Hop industry, just behind Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs, was born on October 4, 1957 in Queens, New York City.  His parents were Damian Simmons, a public school administrator, and Evelyn Simmons, a New York City park administrator.  Simmons is one of four brothers.  While growing up he lived a life of poverty as his block in Queens was known at that time as the area’s drug capitol. Even Simmons himself became involved with dealing marijuana in his early youth.

Simmons first became involved with hip hop music at the age of 20 when in 1977 he attended a party in a small club where an MC (Master of Ceremonies) was shouting call-and-response rhymes. Inspired by that experience, Simmons began promoting MCs, like the one from the former party, and booking them for shows.  Although he lacked musical talent, Simmons felt his promotions were a way to become involved in the industry.  Simmons often lost money on these early promotions but he continued to work on building successful acts and his own career.

Sources: 
Lemonade Stories, “Russell Simmons,” http://www.lemonadestories.com/defjam.html; Salon.com, “Russell Simmons: The Founder of Def Jam Records Brought Hip-Hop Culture into the American Mainstream, and His Empire is Growing," Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/people/bc/1999/07/06/simmons/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Berry, Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry is considered a pioneer of rock and roll and a major influence on 20th century popular music. His songs such as “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are rock and roll standards.

Chuck Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 18, 1926 to a middle class family which included six siblings.  His father Henry worked in a flour mill and his mother Martha was a college graduate.  Chuck’s mother played piano and both she and his father were church singers instilling in their son an early interest in music.  

Despite his middle class family background, Berry as a teenager joined two high school friends in committing a short string of armed robberies in Kansas City, Missouri.  They were arrested and Berry was convicted and served three years in prison between 1944 and 1947.

Shortly after he was released Berry married Themetta Suggs. The couple had two children and Berry settled into family life while working at an automobile assembly plant in St. Louis and taking jobs as a carpenter with his father. In his free time Berry finally pursued an early fascination with guitar, taking lessons from Ira Harris, a local jazz guitarist.
Sources: 
Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography (New York: Harmony Books, 1987); Robert Santelli, The Big Book of the Blues (New York: Penguin Group, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Dett, R. Nathaniel (1882-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
From precocious five-year-old piano player in the 1890s to internationally known choral director, composer, concert pianist, and poet, R. Nathaniel Dett became champion for preservation of the black spiritual which he called authentic American folk music: He dedicated his life to finding a musical form to bridge the gap between the music’s simple origins and its concert performance.

Robert Nathaniel Dett was born October 11, 1882 in Drummondville, Ontario, Canada, a town founded prior to the American Civil War by fugitive slaves from the U.S.  His early experience included absorbing spirituals his grandmother sang, playing piano in church, and studying piano locally. He then majored in piano and composition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  In 1908 Dett was its first African American to graduate from Oberlin after winning Phi Beta Kappa honors. His formal education continued throughout his life including studies at Harvard University where his 1920 essay “Negro Music” won a prize. In 1932 he received a Master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music (1932).

In 1911 Dett published his only book of poetry, The Album of the Heart.  Three years later he began touring as a concert pianist and soon after was widely acclaimed by critics.  In 1916 he married Helen Elise Smith, a pianist and the first black graduate of the Damrosch Institute of Musical Art (later Juilliard School of Music.)
Sources: 
Anne Key Simpson, Follow Me: The Life and Music of R. Nathaniel Dett (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1933); Dominique-Rene de Lerma, The Collected Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett (Miami: Summy-Birchard, 1973); “Biography R. Nathaniel Dett,” Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress, August 26, 2011; Jon Michael Spencer, “R. Nathaniel Dett’s Views on the Preservation of Black Music,” The Black Perspective in Music (Autumn 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Havens, Richard Pierce ["Richie"] (1941-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Music’s Over Website
Richie Havens, born Richard Pierce Havens, was an esteemed musician, writer, educator, and actor. Havens was born in Brooklyn on January 21, 1941 to a music-infused family. His father, Richard Havens, was a Blackfoot Native-American ear piano player, and his mother, Milfred, was a singer from the British West Indies. Havens was the eldest of nine children.

Havens is best remembered for his three-hour opening performance on August 15, 1969 at the Woodstock Concert on Max Yasgur’s farm. Havens was selected to open the concert when the original act was delayed in traffic. His performance ended with an improvised rendition of an old African American spiritual, “Motherless Child,” which became known as “Freedom” and was immediately identified with the pivotal movements of the period: civil rights, anti-war, free love, and feminism.

Haven’s illustrious career began much earlier in 1954, when he started singing doo-wop music at age 13. By the age of 16, Havens had formed a gospel group known as McCrea Gospel singers. In 1967, Havens signed with Verve Records in a deal arranged by Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman.

After Woodstock, Haven’s popularity skyrocketed and later in 1969, he formed his own record label, Stormy Forest, a label which eventually released six albums. In total, Havens recorded twenty-five albums over his five decade career.
Sources: 
Rachel Marco-Havens, “Richie Havens Daughter Says Good-Bye,” The Progressive (April 23, 2013); Richie Havens and Steve Davidowitz, They Can't Hide Us Anymore (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1999); Derek Schofield, “Richie Havens,” The Guardian (April 23, 2013); http://richiehavens.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian
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