W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy

1873-1958 b. Florence, Ala. William Christopher Handy was largely self-taught, Handy began his career as a cornet player in a minstrel show in 1896, and later organized various small bands.

He was among the first to set down the blues, and with his Memphis Blues (1912), originally entitled Mr. Crump (1909), he rose to prominence. His songs, such as St. Louis Blues (1914) and Beale Street Blues (1917), are the classic examples of their type.

In 1918 he moved from Memphis to New York City and remained active as a writer and publisher of music, in spite of growing blindness, until shortly before his death. Continue reading

Redd Foxx

Redd Foxx

Redd Foxx

1922-1991. Born John Elroy Sanford in St. Louis, Missouri, Foxx made his mark in the TV smash Sanford and Son (1972?77) after many years of odd jobs and short stretches on the night club circuit, including a kitchen job with Malcolm Little who would later be known as Malcolm X.

Foxx hit it big in Las Vegas in 1968, but didn’t make the celluloid jump until the 1970 film Cotton Comes to Harlem. The role brought him to the attention of producers Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear who decided to cast Foxx in Sanford and Son, his first major success. The show was followed by others, including The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour (1977-78) and the Redd Foxx Show (1986).

He later co-edited The Redd Foxx Encyclopedia of Black Humor (1977).

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

b. Brooklyn, N.Y. Born into a middle-class Haitian and Puerto Rican family, he was a 1980s art star whose rise and fall were rapid and dramatic. A rebel, high school dropout, and part of the downtown New York scene, he was influenced by the violence of street life and by the life and work of Andy Warhol, who became his mentor.

Basquiat started as a graffiti artist, making images and writing slogans on the walls of buildings, and also produced painted T-shirts, found-object assemblages, and paintings.

In the early 1980s he was ‘discovered’ by the art establishment, and his works in paint and crayon on unprimed canvas, featuring crude, angry, and rawly powerful figures and graffiti-like written messages, were much sought after by collectors.

Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Basquiat appropriated poetry, drawing and painting, and married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.  Continue reading

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

Founded in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is known as the first institution for higher learning for African Americans.   The founding of Cheyney University was made possible by Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000, one tenth of his estate, to design and establish a school to educate the descendents of the African race.

Born on a plantation in the West Indies, Richard Humphreys came to Philadelphia in 1764. Having witnessed the struggles of African Americans competing unsuccessfully for jobs due to the influx of immigrants, he became interested in their plight. In 1829, race riots heightened and it was that year Richard Humphreys wrote his will and charged thirteen fellow Quakers to design an institution: “…to instruct the descendents of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanic Arts, trades and Agriculture, in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers….”  Continue reading

Fritz Pollard

Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard

Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard

Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard (January 27, 1894 – May 11, 1986) was the first African American head coach in the National Football League (NFL). Pollard along with Bobby Marshall were the first two African American players in the NFL in 1920. Sportswriter Walter Camp ranked Pollard as “one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen.”

Pollard was born in Chicago on January 27, 1894. He attended Lane Tech High School where he played football, baseball, and ran track. Pollard attended Brown University, majoring in chemistry. Pollard played half-back on the Brown football team, which went to the 1916 Rose Bowl. He became the first black to be named to the Walter Camp All-America team.

He later played pro football with the Akron Pros, the team he would lead to the NFL (APFA) championship in 1920. In 1921, he became the co-head coach of the Akron Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back. He also played for the Milwaukee Badgers, Hammond Pros, Gilberton Cadamounts, Union Club of Phoenixville and Providence Steam Roller. Some sources indicate that Pollard also served as co-coach of the Milwaukee Badgers with Budge Garrett for part of the 1922 season. He also coached the Gilberton Cadamounts, a non-NFL team. In 1923 and 1924, he served as head coach for the Hammond Pros. Continue reading

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