The Whitman Sisters were four African-American sisters who were stars of Black Vaudeville. They ran their own performing touring company from 1900 to 1943. Their names were Mabel "May," Essie, Alberta "Bert" and Alice. Their fast-paced variety shows, included comedy skits, a chorus line and jazz band.
Click here to view a documentary about Black Vaudeville.
James P. Johnson was an American pianist and composer. He was one of the most important pianists in the early era of recording. Johnson was a pioneer in the stride playing of the jazz piano. He was one of the key figures in the evolution of ragtime into what was eventually called jazz.
Click here to hear Johnson play "Charleston," one of his most famous pieces.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was the first Black Woman playwright to have her work produced on Broadway. Her play, A Raisin in the Sun, examines the life of a Black American family during segregation in Chicago. Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics Circle award which made her the first Black American and youngest playwright to win the award. Hansberry was 29.
Click here to stream the 1989 film adaptation of A Raisin In The Sun, starring Danny Glover and Esther Rolle.
Sidney Poitier was the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in the 1963 film, Lilies of the Field. Some of his film credits include Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and the film adaptation of Porgy and Bess.
Click here for a short film about Poitier's life.
Carmen de Lavallade is a dancer, choreographer and actress. She was raised in Los Angeles, and began studying ballet at age 16. She was lead dancer for Lester Horton Dance Theatre until she left for New York with her friend, Alvin Ailey. In 1954, de Lavallade made her Broadway debut partnered with Ailey in Truman Capote's musical "House of Flowers." A prolific artist, she has appeared in many television shows, movies, and shows on- and off-Broadway, in addition to teaching acting students at Yale University. She was married to dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder and their artistic partnership spanned 60 years.
Click here for a short piece on de Lavallade's career from her 2017 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Romare Bearden was an artist, author and musician. His work focused on the American South, and unity and cooperation within the African-American community. Bearden grew up during the Harlem Renaissance, and his work is sometimes compared to jazz improvisation. He is recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century.
Click here to view a film about Bearden's life and work.
Born in Trinidad, Hazel Scott was a musician trained in both classical and jazz piano. She was also a singer and actor, and an outspoken critic of racial discrimination and segregation. As a musical prodigy, she received a scholarship to Juilliard School at age 8 and was the first Black American to host her own TV show in 1950.
Click here to see Scott playing two grand pianos at once in a scene from the 1943 movie The Heat's On.
August Wilson was an American playwright who chronicled the history and experiences of African Americans for theatre. His work delved into the systemic and historical exploitation of African Americans, as well as race relations, identity, migration and racial discrimination. Two of his plays won the Pulitzer Prize for Theatre and two plays won Tony Awards for Best Play. James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne and Samuel L. Jackson have performed his works, and two of his plays have been adapted into film (Fences, 2016 and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, 2020) by Denzel Washington.
Click here to view a short film about Wilson's career.
Raven Wilkinson was the first African American woman to receive a contract to dance full time with a major ballet company, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York City. She was promoted to soloist in her second season with the company. Raven later worked with the Dutch National Ballet, dancing in Balanchine repertoire and has danced numerous roles in ballets including Gaite Parisienne, Giselle, Harlequinade, Swan Lake, Variations Classiques and Les Sylphides. When she returned to New York, she joined the New York City Opera Ballet dancing until age 50, and continued there as an actor until the company folded. In her later years, she was a cherished mentor to Misty Copeland.
Click here to view a short film about Wilkinson's life.
Sammy Davis Jr. heralded her as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. He was a dancer, singer, actor and musician. Davis was part of the the Rat Pack, which also included popular entertainers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He is known for finding admiration and adoration of audiences on both sides of the color barrier. Some of his film credits include Oceans 11, Sweet Charity and TAP.
Click here to see Davis perform in a scene from Sweet Charity.