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Arts and Music Spotlight

Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952)

A child of two former slaves, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American ever to win an Oscar. Portraying the sassy head slave Mammy in David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind, McDaniel was forced to accept her award for Best Supporting Actress in a racially segregated hotel. Selznick, however, was able to pull some strings so that McDaniel could give her acceptance speech at the 12th Academy Awards. 
Source: Biography 

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

A major figure in the history of jazz music, Duke Ellington's career spanned more than half a century, during which time he composed thousands of songs for the stage, screen, and contemporary songbook. He created one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music and continued to play what he called "American Music" until shortly before his death in 1974. He earned eleven Grammy awards from 1959 to 2000.
Source: “Biography” 

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

Louis Armstrong was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and singer known for songs like “What a Wonderful World,” “Hello, Dolly,” “Stardust,” and “La Vie En Rose.” An all-star virtuoso, he came to prominence in the 1920s, influencing countless musicians with both his daring trumpet style and unique vocals. Armstrong’s charismatic stage presence impressed not only the jazz world, but all of popular music. 
Source: Biography  

Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

He became the first African American photographer on the staff of Life magazine. Parks was the first African American director of major motion pictures, starting with The Learning Tree in 1969 and Shaft in 1971. The latter movie helped define the blaxploitation era, while simultaneously expanding the identity of African Americans in films. His work transformed how generations of black artists, photographers, and musicians saw themselves and the world, opening their imagination to the possibility of storytelling through images of the black experience.
Source: The Undefeated 44

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions, and all nationalities.
Source: Biography 

Sidney Poitier (1927- )

In 1964, the legendary actor, filmmaker, and director  became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field, an important piece of cinema about a black handyman who encounters a group of nuns who believe that he’s been heaven-sent. Poitier starred in three classic films in 1967—To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—that centered around race and race relations, tapped into the everyday conversations and concerns of black people, and solidified his status as one of Hollywood’s leading actors. 
Source: The Undefeated 44 

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)

Born into poverty in Texas in 1931, Ailey drew from his emotional well of close-knit black churches, rural juke joints, fiery protest songs, and a lonely childhood as a closeted gay man to fuel his passion for dance. After Ailey’s death from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, his company and school grew into the premier repository for emerging black choreographers, and is still the most popular dance touring company on the international circuit. He always addressed the pain of the African American journey, but he also celebrated the triumph and redemption of the human spirit in pieces such as Revelations (1960), Ailey’s most celebrated work.  
Source: The Undefeated 44 

Nina Simone (1933-2003)

Nina Simone’s voice is synonymous with the voice of the civil rights movement in the U.S. She openly addressed the issue of racial discrimination faced by African Americans in such songs as “Mississippi Goddam” (1964), “Why (The King of Love Is Dead)” (1968), and “Young, Gifted and Black” (1969). She regularly performed and participated in civil rights meetings, including the Selma to Montgomery marches. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. 
Source: MSN 2/17/18

Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

Pryor is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. He won an Emmy and five Grammy Awards. 
Source: Mental Floss  

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

Franklin scored a No. 1 hit with her remake of Otis Redding’s "Respect," a song with a double entendre that helped soundtrack the civil rights movement. In 1967, when there was racial unrest in her native Detroit, people ran through the streets, daring cops to come near them while they shouted “sock it to me,” her ad-lib from the song, as they protested. All these years later, the single still resonates, and so does her musical legacy.
Source: United Black Books 

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimi Hendrix delighted audiences in the 1960s with his outrageous electric guitar playing skills and his experimental sound. One of his most memorable performances was at Woodstock in 1969, where he performed "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Source:  Biography 

Stevie Wonder (1950- )

The musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer is the most ever awarded male solo artist, having won 25 Grammy Awards along with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. His singles, including “Superstition” (1972), “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (1973), “Sir Duke” (1976), and “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (1984), along with his albums have made him one of the top 60 bestselling music artists in the industry. Along with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Wonder also has a spot in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. 
Source: MSN 

DJ Kool Herc (1955- )

Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell is a Jamaican American disc jockey who is credited with giving rise to the music genre of hip hop in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York City.
Source: Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the American Dream, Blair Imani, Ten Speed Press,  2020

Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

One of the bestselling artists of all time, Whitney Houston has sold almost 200 million records globally. She influenced many young and aspiring artists with her songs like “How Will I Know” (1985). She also starred in several films, such as The Bodyguard (1992), Waiting to Exhale (1995), and The Preacher’s Wife (1996). She won a total of six Grammy Awards, including the Album of the Year for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard and Record of the Year for “I Will Always Love You.”
Source: MSN 

Beyoncé (1981- )

She rose to fame in the late 1990s as part of the all-female vocal group Destiny's Child. She went on to have a massively successful solo career, delivering many No. 1 singles, including “Crazy In Love” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." She is a winner of 20 Grammy Awards and with 70 nods became the most nominated female artist in the award's history.
Source: Biography &

Beyoncé Knowles photo credit: Everett Collection / | Jimi Hendrix photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.