Josephine Baker was an American dancer, actress and singer, born in St. Louis. She moved to New York City at 15 and came of age during the Harlem Renaissance. Baker left for Paris when she was 19 and her career mostly centered in Europe after that. She was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, the 1927 silent film Siren of the Tropics. She was also known for aiding the French Resistance during World War II. Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences and is noted for her contributions to the civil rights movement.
Click here to see Baker sing in The French Way from 1945.
alvin ailey • dancer/choreographer
Alvin Ailey was an African-American dancer, director, choreographer and activist. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater its affiliated Ailey School as havens for nurturing Black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance. Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations is recognized as one of the most popular and most performed works in the world.
Click here to see Revelations.
Roy Decarava • Photographer
Roy DeCarava was an American photographer and artist. Much of his work focused on documenting everyday life of African Americans, and jazz musicians in Harlem. DeCarava came to be known as a founder in the field of black and white fine art photography. He won a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship in 1952, becoming the first African American photographer to receive this honor.
Click here to see a short film about DeCarava's life.
marian anderson • singer
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'.
the nicholas brothers • dancers
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 • visual artist
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 price • composer
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.