Marian Anderson

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Marian Anderson (1897–1993), a famous operatic singer during the first half of the twentieth century, enjoyed the notoriety of being the United States’ third highest concert box office draw.

Anderson’s popularity came to her in spite of the racial discrimination of her times. She was often refused hotel accommodations and service at restaurants while on tour. One of her most famous racist experiences gained national attention. In 1939, when managers at Howard University tried to arrange a concert for her in Constitution Hall, the largest and most appropriate indoor location in Washington, D.C., the organization called the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), who owned Constitution Hall, refused to allow Anderson to sing there. In response, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped to schedule Anderson’s concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which drew a crowd of over 70,000 people. The story of Anderson’s confrontation with the Daughters of the American Revolution became the topic of many news stories, thus bringing attention to other issues of racial discrimination that existed in the United States.

In 1954, Anderson was given the chance to sing in the role of Ulrica in the Metropolitan Opera of New York’s production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, thus becoming the first African American to sing on the Met stage.

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Harry Belafonte

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Harry Belafonte was born in 1927 to West Indian parents and would eventually spend some of his youth in Jamaica, although he was a U.S. citizen. As a young adult, he would return to his birthplace in New York City and begin his acting career, first on stage and later in film. In 1953, he won a Tony Award for his performance in Almanac. The following year, he would co-star with Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones. In 1960, Belafonte became the first African American to receive an Emmy for the television program Tonight with Belafonte.

Acting was not the only talent that Belafonte possessed. In 1956, after having entered an amateur talent show, Belafonte recorded a collection of tunes with a West Indian bent, and his album Calypso became the first record to sell more than a million copies.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Belafonte developed a relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was he who put up the money for bail when King was sent to Birmingham City Jail, he who financed the Freedom Rides, and he who raised thousands of dollars to gain the release of other jailed civil rights protestors. He also was one of the principal organizers for the March on Washington in 1963. Belafonte was also involved in organizing the joint effort of producing the song ‘‘We Are the World,’’ which generated millions of dollars in the fight against famine in Ethiopia.

(The entire section is 235 words.)

Dorothy Dandridge

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Dorothy Dandridge (1922–1965) began her acting career as a child, appearing on screen for the first time with the Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races. Many of the roles that she played in movies were bit parts, as the Hollywood film industry, during the early part of the twentieth century, offered very little opportunity for African-American actresses. Dandridge’s most significant roles were in two of Otto Preminger’s films: Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1957).

Carmen Jones, a modernization of George Bizet’s opera (first staged in Paris in 1875) tells the tragic story of a young, sensual gypsy woman. Preminger’s movie featured an all-black cast with Bizet’s music and lyrics arranged by Oscar Hammerstein II. Other African-American performers in Carmen Jones included Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. Dandridge played the starring role of Carmen, for which she was nominated for best actress by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the first African-American actress to be so honored.

In 1999, a movie about Dandridge, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry, aired on HBO. The movie covers the struggle Dandridge endured in combating racial prejudice in the movie industry as well as some of the abusive details of her personal life. In 1965, Dandridge was found dead, the apparent victim of an overdose of sleeping pills.

(The entire section is 218 words.)

Chester Bomar Himes

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Chester Himes was born on July 29, 1909. An author and expatriate living in Paris, he published a series of black detective novels. The voice of his writing is often described as more angry than the voices of his contemporaries, who included Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. Himes’s writing reflects a strong awareness of racism, which he was not afraid to depict in very specific terms. Personal details about his life are often used to explain the source of his anger. Although raised in a comfortable and well-educated, middleclass environment, Himes’s life took a turn for the worse when he first was physically impaired after suffering an accidental fall down an elevator shaft and later was expelled from Ohio State for what Himes claimed was a prank. Shortly afterward, at age nineteen, Himes received a twenty-five-year jail sentence for armed robbery. It was in prison, however, that Himes turned to writing.

Himes’s first novel, If He Hollers, Let Him Go (1945), tells the story of a black man who works in a defense plant during World War II. The novel details the suffering that the man endures in a racist environment. His second novel, Cast the First Stone (1952), is about prison life.

Himes lived in Paris at the same time as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison and often met with these other writers. Although not as well known in the States as he was in Europe, Himes, especially after he began his...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

Other Characters

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Louis Armstrong
Some people believe that trumpeter/singer Louis Armstrong was responsible for bringing the concept of jazz to white audiences throughout the United States. He began his musical career during the 1920s and was known for his creative improvisations. Over the years, however, he gradually combined jazz elements with popular music until, at the height of the swing era in the 1930s, he was playing strictly conventional pieces. Armstrong possessed, however, a very appealing stage personality, upon which his popularity soared. Although he would return to a more traditional jazz repertoire in the late 1940s, it was through his renditions of popular music that he would gather his wealth.

Pearl Bailey
Pearl Bailey was a singer and popular entertainer. She sang with the big bands in the 1930s and 1940s and played various acting roles in film and on stage. She appeared in the movie Carmen Jones (1954) with Dorothy Dandridge, although the allblack stage version of Hello, Dolly (1967–1969) would become her most famous role. In the early 1970s, Bailey also starred in her own television show.

When she was sixty-seven years old, Bailey graduated from Georgetown University. She went on to publish several books about her life. In 1975, she served as a special ambassador to the United Nations and later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1975).

Lena Horne Lena Horne is an African-American singer and actress. One of her first roles on Broadway was in the play Blackbirds of 1939. Eventually, she made her way to Hollywood where she signed a movie contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, insisting that the movie studio never cast her in a stereotypical black role. In 1942, she got her first big break, playing the leading role in Cabin in the Sky. The following year, she was cast in Stormy Weather, for which she also sang the title song, a song that would become her trademark.

Horne won a Grammy for the album based on her award-winning Broadway show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, the longest running onewoman show in Broadway history. In 1984, she was honored with the Kennedy Center Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

Joe Louis
Joe Louis was the first African American to attain hero status both with the African-American community and the white community in the United States. Louis was a boxer, one of the first African- American athletes to enjoy a prominent role in the cultural history of the States. His career began in the 1930s, and he would go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world at a time when boxing was at its apex, thus giving Louis his prominent status. Known as the Brown Bomber, Louis first lost and then later won back his title from Germany’s Max Schmeling, who was viewed as a symbol of Hitler’s regime. The year was 1938, right before the beginning of World War II, which made Louis’s triumph that much more celebrated. Louis died in 1981 in Las Vegas. President Reagan made arrangements for him to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., thus honoring him as a hero.

Otto Preminger
Otto Preminger originally entered the world of stage and screen as an actor but made his fame as a director of plays and film. He worked for various studios in the first half of the twentieth century, but in the early 1950s he became an independent producer and director. It was at this time that Preminger gained a reputation for taking on controversial subjects. His movie The Moon Is Blue (1953) dealt with the topic of virginity and pregnancy,...

(The entire section is 1488 words.)