April 23, 1985 Ralph Waldo Ellison was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Ellison was born March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He entered Tuskegee Institute on a music scholarship in 1933 but after his third year moved to New York City where he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. Ellison had over 20 book reviews, short stories, and articles published in magazines between 1937 and 1944. He published the novel “Invisible Man” in 1952 and it won the 1953 National Book Award. Ellison published “Shadow and Act,” a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers and Yale Universities in 1964. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson January 20, 1969 and the following year became a permanent member of the faculty at New York University. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and Oklahoma City honored him with the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library in 1975. Ellison died April 16, 1994. His manuscripts “Flying Home and Other Stories” (1996) and “Juneteenth” (1999) were published posthumously. “Ralph Ellison: A Biography” was published in 2007. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2014.
- April 23, 1856 Granville T. Woods, hall of fame inventor often called the “Black Edison,” was born in Columbus, Ohio. He and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company in 1884 to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. Woods was granted patent number 308,876 December 2, 1884 for a telephone transmitter, an apparatus that conducted sound over an electrical current. His instrument improved on models then in use by carrying a louder and more distinct sound over a longer distance. He received patent number 373,915 November 29, 1887 for the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph which allowed communication between stations from moving trains. Although Woods was granted approximately 60 patents, he died virtually penniless January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor. Woods was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. “Granville T. Woods: African American Communications and Transportation Pioneer” was published in 2013.
- April 23, 1858 Ernest James Hayford, the second African to practice medicine in the Gold Coast, was born in Anomabu, Gold Coast (now Ghana). After private medical study from 1882 to 1884, Hayford studied medicine in London, England from 1884 to 1888, specializing in gynecology. As an executive member of the Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society, his interest in politics led him to study law privately and then in London from 1910 to 1913. He was called to the bar just prior to his death August 6, 1913.
- April 23, 1895 Clatonia Joaquin Dorticus of Newton, New Jersey received patent number 537,968 for a photographic print or negative washer. His machine removed chemicals from the prints or negatives. It prevented over washing that could soften the photograph. Dorticus also received patent numbers 535,820 March 19, 1895 for a device for applying coloring liquids to sides of soles or heels of shoes, 537,442 April 16, 1895 for mounting and embossing photographs, and 629,315 July 18, 1899 for a hose leak stop. Other than the fact that he was born in Cuba, little else is known of Dorticus’ life.
- April 23, 1950 Julian Abele, architect, died. Abele was born April 30, 1881 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheney University) and completed a two-year architectural drawing course at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art in 1898. Abele became the first Black graduate of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1902. He also took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1906, Abele joined a leading architectural firm and by 1909 was the chief designer and second highest paid employee. At the firm, he contributed to the design of more than 400 buildings, including the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University, the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Abele was the primary designer of the west campus of Duke University. Despite this, he was refused accommodations at a Durham, North Carolina hotel during a visit to campus. Also, it was not until 1988 that a portrait of him was displayed on campus, the first portrait of an African American displayed on campus. Julian Abele Park in Philadelphia is named in his honor.
- April 23, 1952 Narada Michael Walden, drummer, vocalist, songwriter and producer, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan but raised in Plainwell, Michigan. Walden began performing as a young teenager. He released his debut album, “Garden of Love Light,” in 1976 and released his breakthrough album, “The Awakening,” in 1979. Other albums from Walden include “Confidence” (1982), “The Nature of Things” (1985), “Sending Love to Everyone” (1995), and “Thunder” (2012). Walden became a mega-producer and songwriter in the 1980s, winning the 1985 Grammy Award for Song of the Year for writing Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love,” the 1988 Grammy for Producer of the Year, and the 1993 Grammy for Album of the Year for the movie soundtrack for “The Bodyguard.” He also produced the Temptations’ “Stay,” their first number one hit in 25 years from the album “Phoenix Rising.” Walden has also worked with Mariah Carey, “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” Diana Ross, “Take Me Higher,” Regina Belle, “Baby Come to Me,” and Al Jarreau “Heaven & Earth.” Walden owns and operates Tarpan Studios in San Rafael, California. His most recent album, “Love Lullabies for Kelly,” was released in 2014. He established the Narada Michael Walden Foundation “to enable youth to experience creativity, love and delight through music, and be inspired to make a productive contribution to our community, our nation and our world.”
- April 23, 1985 Mary Violet Leontyne Price was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Price was born February 10, 1927 in Laurel, Mississippi. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Central State College (now University) in 1948. Her first important stage performance was in the 1952 production of “Falstaff.” She became the first Black person to appear in a televised opera when she sang the title role in “Tosca” for NBC-TV Opera January 23, 1955. Several NBC affiliates cancelled the broadcast in protest. Price made her opera house debut in “Dialogues des Carmelites” in San Francisco, California in 1957. She sang “Onward Christian Soldier” at the state funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. Price gave her operatic farewell in 1985 and her last recital in 1997. Price has received many other honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President Johnson September 14, 1964, the 1965 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, numerous honorary doctorate degrees, and 19 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. “Leontyne Price: Highlights of a Prima Donna” was published in 1973.
- April 23, 1999 Melba Doretta Liston, jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, died. Liston was born January 13, 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri but raised in Los Angeles, California. She joined the big band led by Gerald Wilson in 1943 and during the 1940s played with Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Billie Holliday. She gave up playing and took an administrative job with the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1950. Liston rejoined Gillespie for a United States State Department sponsored tour in 1956. She recorded “Melba and Her Bones,” her only recording as leader, in 1958. Liston became a freelance arranger in 1961, collaborating with Randy Weston, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, and many other artists. From 1973 to 1979, she lived in Jamaica and taught at the Jamaica School of Music. She was forced to give up playing after a stroke left her partially paralyzed in 1985 but continued to arrange music. Liston was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on jazz artists, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1987. The International Women’s Brass Conference honored her as a brasswoman pioneer in 1993.
- April 23, 2012 LeRoy Tashreau Walker, the first Black president of the United States Olympic Committee, died. Walker was born June 14, 1918 in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in science and romance languages from Benedict College in 1940, his Master of Science degree in health and physical education from Columbia University in 1941, and his Ph. D. in biomechanics from New York University in 1957. He became the head track coach at North Carolina Central University in 1945 and chaired the physical education and recreation departments. He was appointed vice-chancellor at NCCU in 1974 and chancellor in 1983. When he retired in 1986, members of his track teams had won 11 Olympic Gold medals, 80 had been named All-American, and 35 had won national championships. He also coached the track teams of other countries, including Israel, Ethiopia, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Kenya. Walker became the first African American president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance in 1977. He became treasurer of the U. S. Olympic Committee’s contingency fund in 1988 and was elected president in 1992, a position he held until 1996. The Leroy T. Walker Physical Education and Recreation Complex is located on the campus of North Carolina Central University. NCCU also annually hosts the Leroy T. Walker Track and Field Invitational. Walker’s biography, “An Olympic Journey: The Saga of an American Hero: LeRoy T. Walker,” was published in 1998.