The Arts

Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield

Born in 1942, Curtis Mayfield was ahead of his time. Performer, producer, songwriter and businessman he was more in sync with the civil rights movement than any of the other musicians of his era. “My songs were not only personal to me, they were personal to a movement..” he said in 1989. He taught himself to play guitar and later performed gospel with his friend Jerry Butler in the Northern Jubilee Singers.

In 1957 they formed the Roosters, a doo wop group. The name would change again, to the Impressions, before they scored a hit with “For Your Precious Love”. Jerry Butler, the vocalist for the song, left the group to go solo…taking Curtis along as guitarist, though he still remained with the Impressions. In 1960 Mayfield made his first hit as a songwriter and soon other singers in Chicago were turning to him to write for them.  Continue reading

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was a true artist of her day and rose as a social phenomenon in the 1950s. Her soulful, unique singing voice and her ability to boldly turn any material that she confronted into her own music made her a superstar of her time. Today, Holiday is remembered for her masterpieces, creativity and vivacity, as many of Holiday’s songs are as well known today as they were decades ago. Holiday’s poignant voice is still considered to be one of the greatest jazz voices of all time.

Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) grew up in jazz talent-rich Baltimore in the 1920s. As a young teenager, Holiday served the beginning part of her so-called “apprenticeship� by singing along with records by Bessie Smith or Louis Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs. When Holiday’s mother, Sadie Fagan, moved to New York in search of a better job, Billie eventually went with her. She made her true singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs and borrowed her professional name – Billie Holiday – from screen star Billie Dove.

Although she never underwent any technical training and never even so much as learned how to read music, Holiday quickly became an active participant in what was then one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country. She would move from one club to another, working for tips. She would sometimes sing with the accompaniment of a house piano player while other times she would work as part of a group of performers.  Continue reading

Vinnette Carroll

Vinnette Carroll

Vinnette Carroll

Vinnette Carroll was the first African-American woman to direct a production on Broadway. Vinnette Carroll was born on March 11, 1922 in New York City to Florence and Edgar Carroll. When Vinnette was three the family moved to Jamaica; subsequently, she spent much of her childhood in the West Indies. She received a BA from Long Island University in 1944; and an MA from New York University in 1946; followed by doctoral work in psychology at Columbia University. Carroll’s father encouraged his daughters to become physicians, and as a compromise, Vinnette chose psychology. Carroll worked as a clinical psychologist with the NYC Bureau of Child Guidance before beginning to study acting.

In 1948 she accepted a scholarship to attend the Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research and studied with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Margaret Barker, and Susan Steele. She made her professional stage debut at the Falmouth Playhouse acting in Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion.  Continue reading

Otis Redding

Otis Redding

Born in 1941, Otis Redding was the ultimate R&B singer.His sound was deeply rooted in gospel and country blues, but he tempered it with the mellower pop sound of Sam Cooke. He first became interested in singing by participating in church choirs. He sang at clubs and dances, joining a band in 1959.

He made had his first recording with that band in 1960 and at the end of the session he had the chance to cut two of his own songs. His soulful sound caught the ear of the president of Stax Records who signed him to a subsidiary label, Volt. Over the next two years he released several hits, and became an R&B star, but he never achieved overwhelming fame.

Sadly, it was only after his sudden and tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 26 in 1967, that he became the legendary star that he is now. Volt released “Dock of The Bay” after his death and it was Otis’s biggest record.

Thelma ‘Butterfly’ McQueen

Thelma ‘Butterfly’ McQueen

1811-1995 – Stage and film actress best remembered for her part in film history with Gone With the Wind (1939). McQueen received her nickname of ?Butterfly? when she appeared in the Harlem Theater group’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Butterfly ballet sequence. Despite the notice she received from her role in Gone With the Wind, roles became harder to get and she was out of films by the 1950s.

She worked at various jobs, including waitress at a soul food restaurant, a receptionist, and dance instructor between occasional acting jobs in small parts on Broadway. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1975 from New York’s City College at the age of 64 and had a radio show in Augusta, Georgia before she died in a fire that consumed her one-bedroom cottage.

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