This WEEK in Black History | March 27 - April 2, 2016 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

This WEEK in Black History | March 27 - April 2, 2016

March 27, 1970

Mariah Carey, singer, songwriter and actress, was born in Long Island, New York. Carey began singing at three and was working as a demo singer for local recording studios by high school. She co-wrote the tracks on her 1990 debut album, "Mariah Carey," which won her the Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the single "Vision of Love." 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), and "Me. I Am Mariah……The Elusive Chanteuse" (2014). She has sold more than 200 million albums, singles and videos worldwide and earned five Grammy Awards. She received Billboard's Artist of the Decade Award and the World Music Award for Best Selling Female Artist of the Millennium in 2000. VH1 ranked her second on their list of the 100 Greatest Women in Music in 2012. 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. She directed and starred in the television movie "A Christmas Melody" in 2015. Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2008. 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.

Photo Source: Mariah Carey at the premiere of Tennessee at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival by David Shankbone via Wikipedia

March 28, 1958

William Christopher "W. C." Handy, hall of fame blues composer and musician, died. Handy was born November 16, 1873 in Florence, Alabama. Handy received a teaching degree from Huntsville Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1892. He became bandmaster of Mahara's Colored Minstrels at 23 and toured throughout the United States and Cuba over the next three years. He taught music at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (now Alabama A&M University) from 1900 to 1902. He returned to leading bands in 1903 and touring with the Knights of Pythias which he led for the next six years. The 1912 publication of his "Memphis Blues" sheet music was credited as the inspiration for the foxtrot dance step and many consider it the first blues song. Handy had also published "Beale Street Blues" and "St. Louis Blues" by 1917. Bessie Smith's recording of "St. Louis Blues" with Louis Armstrong is considered one of the finest recordings of the 1920s. Handy authored "Blues: An Anthology – Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs," which was the first work to record, analyze, and describe the blues as an integral part of the history of the United States, in 1926. Handy wrote four other books, including his autobiography, "Father of the Blues: An Autobiography." A movie about his life titled "St. Louis Blues" was released in 1958. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1969. He was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010. Streets in New York, Tennessee, and Alabama are named in his honor and the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held annually in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Photo Source:

March 29, 1918

Pearl Mae Bailey, jazz vocalist and actress, was born in Southampton County, Virginia. Bailey made her stage debut at 15 when she won an amateur contest in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During World War II, she toured the country with the United Service Organizations, singing and dancing for American troops. She made her Broadway debut in "St. Louis Woman" in 1946 and received a Special Tony Award for the title role in the all-Black production of "Hello Dolly!" in 1968. Bailey also appeared in numerous feature films, including "Carmen Jones" (1954), "Porgy and Bess" (1959), and "Norman, Is That You" (1976). She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University in 1985. She won the 1986 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming for her performance in "Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale." She published her autobiography, "The Raw Pearl," in 1968. She also published "Talking to Myself" in 1971 and "Between You and Me" in 1989. Bailey was named special adviser to the United States Mission of the United Nations General Assembly in 1975. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Ronald W. Reagan October 17, 1988. Bailey died August 17, 1990.

Photo Source: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, 12 February 1961

March 30, 1948

Naomi Ruth Sims, the first African American supermodel, was born in Oxford, Mississippi but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sims' early attempts to get modeling work through established agencies were frustrated by racial prejudice, with some telling her that her skin was too dark. Her first break came in August, 1967 when she was photographed for the cover of the New York Times' fashion supplement. Her next breakthrough was when she was selected for a national television campaign for AT&T. She went on to achieve worldwide recognition after that, appearing as the first Black model on the cover of Ladies' Home Journal in 1968 and on the cover of Life Magazine in 1969. Sims retired from modeling in 1973 and started her own business which expanded into a multi-million dollar beauty empire. She also authored several books on modeling, health and beauty, including "All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman" (1976), "How to Be a Top Model" (1979), and "All About Success for the Black Woman" (1982). Sims died August 1, 2009.

Photo Source: Vogue

March 31, 1870

Thomas Mundy Peterson of Perth Amboy, New Jersey cast the first vote by an African American after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Peterson cast his vote in a local election to revise the town's charter. After that was approved, Peterson was appointed to the committee to revise the charter. Peterson was born October 6, 1824 in Metuchen, New Jersey. By this date, he was serving as a school custodian and general handyman in Perth Amboy. He later became the town's first African American to hold elected office and also the first to serve on a jury. Peterson died February 4, 1904. Decades later, the school where he worked was renamed in his honor. In New Jersey, March 31 is annually celebrated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in recognition of his historic vote.

Photo Source: Tumblr, @gregorygalloway

April 1, 1880

Southern University and A&M College was chartered by the Louisiana General Assembly "for the education of persons of color." Southern opened its doors in New Orleans with 12 students in 1881. Southern University Law Center was established in 1947 because Louisiana State University Law School would not admit African Americans. The Southern University System was established in 1974 consisting of Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Southern University, New Orleans, Southern University Law Center, Southern University Agricultural Center, and Southern University, Shreveport. The system has approximately 6,300 students and offers associates degrees in 2 areas, bachelor's in 42, master's in 19, and doctorates in 5. Notable alumni include Mel Blount, Avery Johnson, Randy Jackson, Branford Marsalis, Cleo Fields, and Jesse N. Stone.Photo Source: Southern University Systems.

April 2, 1984

John Robert Thompson, Jr. became the first African American head coach to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Championship when Georgetown University defeated the University of Houston in the NCAA basketball tournament finals. Thompson was born September 2, 1941 in Washington, D. C. He played college basketball at Providence College where he led them to the 1963 National Invitational Tournament Championship and was a 1964 All-American. He was Providence's all-time leading scorer when he earned his bachelor's degree in economics in 1964. He later earned his master's degree in guidance and counseling from the University of the District of Columbia. Thompson played two years in the National Basketball Association for the Boston Celtics, retiring in 1966. Thompson coached high school basketball from 1966 to 1971. He was hired to coach Georgetown in 1972 and over the next 27 years led them to 596 wins and 239 losses, including three NCAA Tournament Final Four appearances. Thompson resigned the position in 1999 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame that same year. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. The athletic center at Georgetown is named in his honor. Thompson currently serves as a commentator for professional and college basketball games and is on the board of Nike.

Photo Source: The Washington Post

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