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.
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.