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Today in Black History, 3/27/2012

• March 27, 1905 Leroy Carr, blues singer, pianist, and songwriter, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Carr served in the United States Army in the early 1920s. Carr was one of the first Northern bluesmen and in 1928 he recorded his first release, “How Long, How Long Blues,” which was an immediate success. Throughout the early 1930s, Carr was one of the most popular bluesmen and although his career was short, he left behind a large body of work, including “Blues Before Sunrise” (1934) and “When the Sun Goes Down” (1935). Carr died April 29, 1935 and his vocal style influenced Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Witherspoon, among others.

 

• March 27, 1909 Benjamin Francis Webster, jazz tenor saxophonist, was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Webster learned to play piano and violin at an early age, before learning to play the saxophone. Webster played in a number of orchestras during the 1930s, including Benny Moten’s, Fletcher Henderson’s, Cab Calloway’s, and Teddy Wilson’s. By 1940, he had become the first major tenor soloist of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, a position he held until 1943. In 1964, Webster moved permanently to Copenhagen, Denmark where he died on September 20, 1973. The Ben Webster Foundation was founded “to support the dissemination of jazz in Denmark.” Webster was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1974.

 

• March 27, 1917 Rufus Thomas, Jr., R&B, funk, and soul singer, was born in Cayce, Mississippi, but grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. By the age of ten, he was performing in amateur productions. For 22 years until 1963, Thomas worked in a textile plant while pursuing a career as a professional entertainer. He recorded his first song in 1943, but the prime of his career came in the 1960s and 1970s when he recorded “Walking the Dog” (1963), which went to number five on the R&B chart, “Do the Push and Pull” (1970), his only number one R&B hit, and “The Breakdown” (1971), which climbed to number two on the R&B chart. In 2001, Thomas was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and he died December 15, 2001. A street in Memphis is named in his honor.

 

• March 27, 1924 Sarah Lois Vaughan, jazz singer known as “The Divine One,” was born in Newark, New Jersey. Vaughan began piano lessons at the age of seven and sang in the church choir. In 1942, Vaughan sang “Body and Soul” at the Apollo Amateur Night contest and won. She was noticed by Earl Hines and spent 1943 and 1944 touring with his band. Vaughan began her solo career in 1945 and recorded a number of hit jazz singles, including “If You Could See Me Now” (1946), which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance,” “Black Coffee” (1949), “Make Yourself Comfortable” (1954), and “Broken Hearted Melody” (1959). In 1947, she won Esquire Magazine’s New Star Award. Her 1977 album “I Love Brazil” garnered a Grammy nomination. In 1980, Vaughan performed a symphonic Gershwin program with the New Jersey Symphony which was broadcast by PBS and won the 1981 Emmy Award for Individual Achievement – Special Class. A slightly modified version was recorded “Gershwin Live!” and it won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female. Vaughan was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1985 and the American Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1989, the National Endowment for the Arts designated her as a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor in jazz, and she received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Vaughan died April 3, 1990. The documentary “Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One” was released in 1991 and her biography, “The Life of Sarah Vaughan,” was published in 1993.

 

• March 27, 1934 Arthur Mitchell, dancer and choreographer, was born in Harlem, New York. In 1955, Mitchell made his debut as the first African American dancer with the New York City Ballet and by the next year he had risen to principal dancer. In 1966, Mitchell left the New York City Ballet to appear in several Broadway shows and to help form ballet companies in Washington, D.C. and Brazil. In 1969, Mitchell formed the Dance Theater of Harlem and over the years DHT has created hundreds of professional opportunities for minorities in dance, music, and other theater activities. Mitchell has received numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, presented by President William Clinton in 1995, and in 1999 he was inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Hall of Fame. Mitchell has also received honorary doctorates from numerous leading universities.

 

• March 27, 1944 Jesse Brown, the first African American to serve as United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was born in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Brown enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1963 and reached the rank of corporal. While serving during the Vietnam War, he was seriously injured resulting in his right arm being paralyzed for life. After his military service, Brown graduated with honors from the City Colleges of Chicago. In 1967, he joined the staff of Disabled American Veterans and in 1989 became the DAV’s first African American director. He served in that position until 1993 when he was selected by President William Clinton to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Brown served in that capacity until 1997 and during his tenure expanded services offered to female veterans, homeless veterans, and veterans who were ill due to chemical exposure in Vietnam or the Gulf War. In 2000, Brown was given the Leader’s in Furthering Education (LIFE) Memorial Foundation’s Presidential Unsung Hero Award which “seeks to honor an outstanding veteran who has demonstrated heroic efforts in surmounting disability and whose contributions to society serve as an inspiration to others.” That same year, he was selected as the Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year by the Disabled American Veterans. Brown died August 15, 2002 and the Jesse Brown Veteran Administration Medical Center in Chicago is named in his honor.

 

• March 27, 1965 Crystal Bird Fauset, the first African American female state legislator in the United States, died. Fauset was born June 27, 1894 in Princess Anne, Maryland, but raised in Boston, Massachusetts. From 1918 to 1926, she worked as a field secretary for African American girls at the Young Women’s Christian Association. In 1931, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Also in 1931, Fauset founded the Colored Women’s Activities Club for the Democratic National Committee and as a result was appointed director of the Women and Professional Project in the Works Progress Administration. She also served on the Federal Housing Advisory Board in 1935. In 1938, Fauset was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature, the first African American female legislator in the country. During her time in the legislature, she focused on improvements in public health, housing the poor, public relief, and women’s rights in the workplace. In 1941, Fauset was appointed race relations director of the Office of Civil Defense and became a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black cabinet.” After World War II, Fauset helped found the United Nations Council of Philadelphia which later became the World Affairs Council. During the 1950s, she traveled to Africa, India, and the Middle East to support independence leaders. In 1991, a historical marker was dedicated in her honor at 5403 Vine Street in Philadelphia.

 

• March 27, 1970 Mariah Carey, singer, songwriter, and actress, was born in Long Island, New York. Carey began singing at the age of three and by high school was working as a demo singer for local recording studios. Carey co-wrote the tracks on her 1990 debut album, “Mariah Carey” which resulted in her winning the Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the single “Vision of Love.” Also Carey was the first recording artist to have her first five singles top the Billboard chart. Subsequent albums by Carey include “Music Box” (1993), “Butterfly” (1997), “The Emancipation of Mimi” (2005), “E=MC2” (2008), “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel” (2009). Carey has sold more than 200 million albums, singles and videos worldwide and earned five Grammy Awards. In 2000, Carey received Billboard’s Artist of the Decade Award and the World Music Award for Best Selling Female Artist of the Millennium. Carey made her movie acting debut in “The Bachelor” (1999). Her first starring role was in the much maligned “Glitter” (2001), however she returned in “Precious” (2009) and won the Breakthrough Actress Performance Award at the International Film Festival. Carey is a philanthropist who has donated time and money to many youth oriented organizations, including Camp Mariah which enables youth to embrace the arts and introduces them to career opportunities.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.

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