Today in Black History, 2/15/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 2/15/2012


• February 15, 1952 Bill T. Jones, dancer, choreographer and artistic director, was born in Bunnell, Florida. Jones performed and choreographed worldwide before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. In addition to creating more than 100 works for his own company, Zane has choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and Berlin Opera Ballet. He also directed “Dream on Monkey Mountain” in 1994 and co-directed “Perfect Courage” in 1990. In 1994, Jones received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award and in 2007 he won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for “Spring Awakening.” Jones is the co-creator, director, and choreographer for the musical “Fela!” which opened on Broadway in 2009 and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography. In 2003, Jones was awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize which is given to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life” and in 2007 he was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors for the Arts and in 2011 he received the YoungArts Arison Award which is given annually to an individual who has had a significant influence on the development of young American artists. Jones published his autobiography, “Last Night on Earth,” in 1995.


• February 15, 1960 Darrell Ray Green, hall of fame football player, was born in Houston, Texas. Green played college football at Texas A&I University where he was a first team All-American and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1983. Green was selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins and over his 20 season professional career was a four-time All-Pro selection and two-time Super Bowl champion. In 1996, he won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his volunteer and charity work and in 1997 he won the Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and leadership on the field and in the community. In 1988, Green founded the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, a faith-based organization with the mission to “meet the needs of children, their families and the communities in which they live.” Green retired in 2002, was selected to serve as the chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council on Service and Civic Participation in 2003, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, and in 2008 was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A section of State Route 28 in Loudoun County, Virginia is named Darrell Green Boulevard.


• February 15, 1964 Leland Devon Melvin, engineer and NASA astronaut, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Melvin attended the University of Richmond on a football scholarship and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1985. In 1991, he earned his Master of Science degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia. Melvin was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 NFL draft, but a couple of injuries ended his professional football career. In 1989, Melvin began working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in 1998 he was selected as an astronaut. Melvin has flown two missions on the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist, on STS-122 from February 7 to 20, 2008 and on STS-129 from November 16 to 27, 2009 for a total of 23 days, 13 hours, and 28 minutes in space. Melvin was named NASA associate administrator for education in October, 2010.


• February 15, 1965 Nat King Cole, jazz pianist and singer, died. Cole was born Nathaniel Adam Coles on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama. He began performing in the 1930s with the King Cole Trio and in 1943 they signed with Capitol Records. Revenue from Cole’s recordings accounted for much of Capitol’s success and the headquarters that they built in 1956 is often referred to as “the house that Nat built.” Cole’s first vocal hit was his 1943 recording of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” which sold over 500,000 copies. This was followed by such hits as “The Christmas Song” (1946), “Nature Boy” (1948), “Mona Lisa” (1950), “Unforgettable” (1951), and “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” (1963). On November 5, 1956, “The Nat King Cole Show” debuted, the first television show hosted by an African American. The show only lasted a year because of the lack of a national sponsor. Cole also appeared in a number of films, including “The Blue Gardenia” (1953), “St. Louis Blues” (1958), and “Cat Ballou” (1965). Cole’s last album, “L-O-V-E,” was released just prior to his death. Cole was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and in 1997 was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Cole’s biography, “Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole,” was published in 1991.


• February 15, 1968 Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs, blues harmonica player, died. Jacobs was born May 1, 1930 in Marksville, Louisiana. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1945 and from 1948 to 1952 played in Muddy Walters’ band. His harmonica is featured on most of Walters’ classic recordings from the 1950s. In 1952, Jacobs recorded his first hit, “Juke,” which spent eight weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts and is still the only harmonica instrumental to top the charts. That recording was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1995, it was listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll and in 2008 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” Between 1952 and 1958, Jacobs had 14 top ten hits, including “Sad Hours” (1952), “My Babe” (1955), which was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008, and “Key to the Highway” (1958). Jacobs was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, making him the only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player. His biography, “Blues With A Feeling: The Little Walter Story,” was published in 2002.


• February 15, 1980 Charles Leroy Thomas, Medal of Honor recipient, died. Thomas was born April 17, 1920 in Alabama. Before World War II, he worked at Ford Motor Company and was a student at Wayne State University. On December 14, 1944, Thomas led a task force in the capture of Climbach, France and his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Thomas’ citation partially reads, “While riding in the lead vehicle of a task force organized to storm and capture …………… Lt. Thomas’ armored scout car was subjected to intense enemy artillery, self-propelled gun, and small arms fire. Although wounded by the initial burst of hostile fire, Lt. Thomas signaled the remainder of the column to halt and, despite the severity of his wounds, assisted the crew of the wrecked car in dismounting. Upon leaving the scant protection which the vehicle afforded, Lt. Thomas was again subjected to a hail of enemy fire which inflicted multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, legs, and left arm. Despite the intense pain caused by these wounds, Lt. Thomas ordered and directed the dispersion and emplacement of two antitank guns which in a few moments were promptly and effectively returning the enemy fire. Realizing that he could no longer remain in command of the platoon, he signaled to the platoon commander to join him……….. Only after he was certain that his junior officer was in full control of the situation did he permit himself to be evacuated.” For his bravery under fire, Thomas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After the war, Thomas remained in the army and retired as a major. As the result of studies indicating discrimination in the process of awarding medals during World War II, Thomas was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on January 13, 1997.

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