Marian Anderson was an American contralto (her singing voice vocal range was the lowest female voice type). She performed a wide range of music, from opera to spirituals. Anderson overcame racial prejudice when she performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on the Lincoln Memorial steps in 1939. In 1955, Anderson became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.
Click here to see a short film about Anderson's life.
Norma Miller was a dancer, choreographer, actress, author and comedian known as the “Queen of Swing." Discovered at age 12 on the streets of Harlem, she won dance contests at the Apollo Theatre and the integrated Savoy Ballroom. There, she danced with Frank Manning. Manning was an American dancer, instructor and choreographer one of the founders of the Lindy Hop.
Click here to see Manning and Miller dance in Hellzapoppin'.
Two brothers, Fayard and Harold, were The Nicholas Brothers — considered by many to be the greatest tap dancers of their day. They excelled in many techniques, including a highly acrobatic technique known as “flash dancing.” Their performance featured in the 1943 movie Stormy Weather has been praised as one of the most masterful film dance routines of all time.
Click here to see the Stormy Weather number.
Judith Ann Jamison is an American dancer and choreographer. She studied classical ballet and modern dance with Marion Cuyjet from a young age. Jamison made her New York debut with the American Ballet Theatre at the age of 21 and was invited to join Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1965, where she remained the principal dancer until 1980. Ailey created some of his most enduring roles for her, most notably the tour-de-force solo Cry. Upon Ailey's death in 1989, she assumed the role of artistic director.
Click here to see Jamison in Cry.
Aaron Douglas was a painter and graphic artist who became known as the “father of Black American Art.” He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance creating illustrations for publications and an anthology entitled The New Negro. Douglas’s work showed powerful images of African American life and struggles. His artistic style fused African art with elements of cubism and art deco, with many of his figures appearing as bold silhouettes.
Click here to see a film about Douglas's work.
Florence Beatrice Price was an American classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher. Price is noted as the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.
Click here to hear The Apollo String Quartet play Price's Five Folksongs in Counterpoint.
Arthur Mitchell was an American ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder and director of ballet companies. In 1955, he became the first African-American to dance with the New York City Ballet, where he was promoted to principal dancer the following year and danced in major roles until 1966.
Click here to see Mitchell and Diane Adams dance Balanchine's Agon Pas de Deux in 1960.
Faith Ringgold is an artist and author, who was raised in New York City's Harlem. She knew she wanted to be an artist from a young age, and taught art in New York public schools for many years. Her early paintings explored social and political themes, such as civil rights and race riots. In the 1980s her medium turned to "quilt stories," for which she is best known. She has also written and illustrated 17 children's books.
Click here to view an interview with Ringgold.
William Grant Still was known as the "Dean of African-American Composers." He was the first Black composer to have a symphony performed by a professional orchestra in the United States in 1930. Still also became the first Black American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States, when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936.
Click here to hear Still's Afro-American Symphony.
Edmonia "Wild Fire" Lewis was the first professional African American and Native American sculptor. Her early success allowed her to travel to Rome and master working with marble. Her work was Neoclassical in style and featured newly freed African Americans, biblical and historical figures as well as representations of Native Americans. “Forever Free," one of her most prized works, is a sculpture that depicts a Black man and Black woman emerging from the bonds of slavery.
Click here to view for a short film about Lewis' life.