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Today in Black History, 7/6/2012

• July 6, 1931 Della Reese, singer, actress and minister, was born Delloreese Patricia Early in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of six, Reese began singing in church and at 13 was hired to sing with Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group. After graduating from high school, Reese formed her own gospel group called the Meditation Singers. In 1957, Reese released “And That Reminds Me” which became a Top Twenty Pop hit and sold over a million copies. That same year, she was voted by Billboard The Most Promising Singer. In 1959, she released “Don’t You Know” which reached number two on the Pop charts and number one on the R&B charts. Reese recorded regularly during the 1960s, releasing albums such as “The Classic Della” (1962), “Della Reese Live” (1966), and “On Strings of Blue” (1967). In 1970, Reese became the first Black woman to guest host “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” In 1989, Reese starred in the film “Harlem Nights.” In 1994, Reese received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. From 1994 to 2002, she starred in the television series “Touched by an Angel” which ran for nine seasons and 297 episodes. For her performance on that show, Reese was nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series in 1997 and 1998. Reese has also been nominated for four Grammy Awards. In 2010, she was ordained a minister in the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church.


• July 6, 1937 Gene Chandler, singer, songwriter, producer and executive, was born Eugene Dixon in Chicago, Illinois. Chandler began performing in the early 1950s and in 1957 joined a group called The Dukays. The group recorded several singles before recording “Duke of Earl” in 1961. The song was credited solely to Chandler and sold a million copies in the first month after release. Chandler had several other Top 20 hits during the 1960s, including “Just Be True” (1964), “Nothing Can Stop Me” (1965), and “There Was a Time” (1968). In 1970, Chandler wrote, arranged and produced “Groovy Situation” which sold more than a million copies. Also that year, he received the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers Producer of the Year Award. In 1997, Chandler received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award and in 1998 “Duke of Earl” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” Chandler continues to perform around the United States.


• July 6, 1943 Robert Mack Bell, the first African American to serve as the Maryland Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge, was born in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina but raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Bell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, second in his class, in history from Morgan State University in 1966 and his Juris Doctorate degree from Harvard Law School in 1969. In 1975, he was appointed to the District Court of Maryland, making him the youngest judge in the state. He served there until 1980 when he was appointed Associate Judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, a position he held until 1984. That year, Bell was appointed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. In 1991, Bell was appointed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland, and in 1996 he became the chief justice. In 2006, Bell was named chair of the National Center for State Courts’ Board of Directors and president of the Conference of Chief Justices.


• July 6, 1946 Horace Pippin, self-taught painter, died. Pippin was born February 22, 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He served in the 369th infantry Harlem Hellfighters during World War I where he lost the use of his right arm. Pippin started painting in 1930 and his work includes portraits, landscapes, and religious subjects. His painting “John Brown Going to the Hanging” (1942) is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and “Domino Players” (1943) is in the Phillips Collection. Other well known works include “Self Portrait” (1941) and several versions of “Cabin in the Cotton.” His biography, “I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin,” was published in 1993.


• July 6, 1947 Larnelle Steward Harris, gospel singer and composer, was born in Danville, Kentucky. Harris earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Western Kentucky University in 1969. After graduating, he toured with a couple of gospel groups through 1987. Harris has composed more than 30 songs and recorded more than 15 albums. He has won five Grammy Awards, including Best Gospel Performance, Male for “The Father Hath Provided” in 1987 and “Larnelle…..Christmas” in 1998. Harris was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Western Kentucky in 2008.


• July 6, 1949 Phyllis Linda Hyman, singer and actress, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her early 20s, Hyman moved to New York City and began performing with a number of musical groups. In 1974, she appeared in the movie “Lenny.” In 1976, she appeared on Norman Conner’s album “You Are My Starship” and the duo scored on the R&B charts with “Betcha by Golly Wow!” Hyman released her first solo album, “Phyllis Hyman,” in 1977. In 1981, Hyman debuted in the Broadway musical “Sophisticated Ladies.” She performed the role for two years and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. Other albums released by Hyman include “Somewhere in My Lifetime” (1978), “Living All Alone” (1985), and “Prime of My Life” (1991). Hyman committed suicide on June 30, 1995. Two other albums, “I Refuse to Be Lonely” (1995) and “Forever with You” (1998), were released posthumously. In 2007, Hyman’s biography, “Strength of a Woman: the Phyllis Hyman Story,” was published.


• July 6, 1954 Donnie L. Cochran, the first African American to command the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels), was born near Pelham, Georgia. Cochran earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1976 from Savannah State University where he was a member of the Navy ROTC program. After completing flight school, he earned his navy wings in 1978. In 1985, Cochran became the first African American to become a member of the Blue Angels precision flying team and in 1994 he became the commanding officer of the team. Cochran resigned that position in 1996 and retired from the navy in 2000. While in the navy, Cochran graduated from the Air War College and earned a master’s degree in human resource management from Troy State University. In 1991, Savannah State dedicated a memorial on the university’s campus in honor of Cochran.


• July 6, 1960 Valerie Brisco-Hooks, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. Brisco-Hooks attended California State University-Northridge and in 1984 won the national outdoor 400 meter championship and became the first woman to run the event in under 50 seconds. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, she won Gold medals in the 200 meter and 400 meter races and the 4 by 400 relay. She was the first Olympian to win the Gold medal in the 200 and 400 meter races at the same Olympic Games. At the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, she won the Silver medal as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Brisco-Hooks retired after the 1988 games and was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1995. She currently trains disadvantage children for the Special Olympics.


• July 6, 1964 The Republic of Malawi gained independence from the United Kingdom. Malawi is located in southeast Africa and bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique to the east, south and west. The country is approximately 45,560 square miles in area and has a population of 13,900,000. Approximately 80% of the population in Christian and around 13% are Muslim. The official language is English.


• July 6, 1971 Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr. from Jackson, Mississippi received patent number 3,591,860 for his invention of the gamma-electric cell for nuclear reactor use. His invention produces stable high-voltage output and current to detect radiation in the ground. Sampson was born April 22, 1934 in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University in 1956 and his Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of California in 1961. Sampson earned his Master of Science degree and Ph. D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois in 1965 and 1967, respectively, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering in the United States. Sampson is also a writer and film historian. He has written “Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films” (1977) and “The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865 – 1910” (1988). Sampson is on the board of Los Angeles Southwest College Foundation and is a technical consultant to the Historical Black Colleges and Universities Program. The Henry Thomas Sampson Library in Jackson is named in his honor.


• July 6, 1971 Louis Daniel “Satchmo” “Pops” Armstrong, jazz trumpeter and singer, died. Armstrong was born August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a teenager, Armstrong played with and was mentored by Joe “King” Oliver and in 1922 he moved to Chicago, Illinois to join Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong came to prominence in the mid-1920s as an innovative cornet and trumpet player, shifting jazz’s focus from collective improvisation to solo performers. With his distinctive voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer and by the 1960s his influence extended beyond jazz to popular music in general. Armstrong had many hit records, including “Hello Dolly,” which in 1965 won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and won Armstrong the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male, and “What A Wonderful World” (1968), which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” In addition to those two recordings, Armstrong has nine other recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1952, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1972, Armstrong was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1990 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1995, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Today the house where Armstrong lived for almost 28 years is a National Historic Landmark and the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York. The Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport is named in his honor. Armstrong published his autobiography, “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans,” in 1954. Other biographies of Armstrong include “Louis Armstrong Story, 1900 -1971” and “Louis Armstrong: An American Genius” (1985).


• July 6, 1975 50 Cent, rapper, actor, and entrepreneur, was born Curtis James Jackson in Queens, New York. Jackson’s first official appearance was on a song titled “React” with the group Onyx in 1998. In 2000, he released his debut album, “Power of the Dollar.” Jackson’s breakthrough occurred with the 2003 release of the album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” That album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and sold 872,000 copies in the first four days and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. In 2005, Jackson released “The Massacre” which sold 1.14 million copies in the first four days and has sold more than 11 million copies. It also resulted in Jackson becoming the first solo artist to have three singles in the Billboard top five in the same week. Jackson’s other albums are “Curtis” (2007), “Before I Self Destruct” (2009), and “Black Magic” (2010). Jackson has been nominated for 15 Grammy Awards and in 2010 won the award for Best Rap Performance by A Duo or Group for “Crack a Bottle” with Eminem and Dr. Dre. Billboard magazine named him the Number One Rap Song Artist of the 2000 – 2009 decade. Jackson has also appeared in films, including “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” (2005), “Home of the Brave” (2006), “Righteous Kill” (2008), and “Setup” (2011). In 2005, Jackson published his autobiography, “From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens.”


• July 6, 2010 Harvey Fuqua, singer, songwriter, record producer, and executive, died. Fuqua was born July 27, 1929 in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1951, he formed a vocal group called the Crazy Sounds. Later they moved to Cleveland, Ohio and were renamed The Moonglows. The group recorded their first single in 1953 and their 1954 single “Sincerely” reached number one on the R&B charts. Fuqua left the group in 1958 and recorded a couple of hit duets with Etta James, “If I Can’t Have You” (1960) and “Spoonful” (1961). In 1961, Fuqua started his own record label with acts such as the Spinners and Junior Walker. Shortly afterwards, he joined Motown Records and brought the Spinners and Johnny Bristol with him. He also was responsible for bringing Tammi Terrell to the company and producing her duets with Marvin Gaye, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1967) which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” In 1982, Fuqua produced Marvin Gaye’s album “Midnight Love” which included the single “Sexual Healing.” In 1995, Fuqua and his wife founded The Foundation for the S.T. A.R.S. (Souls Taking Action Reaching Souls) to address the difficulties that plague underprivileged youth in the inner-cities of America, with the belief that every dream should at least have the opportunity to be realized. In 2000, Fuqua was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Moonglows.


• July 6, 2011 John Mackey, hall of fame football player, died. Mackey was born September 24, 1941 in Long Island, New York. He played college football at Syracuse University. He was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 1963 NFL Draft and by his third year in the league had revolutionized the position of tight end. Mackey was forced to retire in 1972 due to injuries but over his ten season professional career, he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. After retirement, Mackey became the first president of the NFL Players Association where he helped organize a strike that earned players $11 million in pensions and other benefits. In 2000, the Nassau County Sports Commission created the John Mackey Award which annually honors the top Division 1 collegiate tight end and in 2007 Syracuse University retired his number 88 uniform number. As a result of contact during his football career, Mackey suffered from dementia. In response, the NFL and the NFL Players Association created the “88 Plan,” named after Mackey’s number. It provides $88,000 per year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care for retired professional football players.

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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.