Today in Black History, 5/16/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 5/16/2012


• May 16, 1887 Laura Wheeler Waring, educator and painter, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Waring graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1914 and was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris, France. She focused her artistic endeavors on portraiture. Upon returning from her studies in Paris in 1928, she founded and taught in the art and music departments at the State Normal School at Cheyney (now Cheyney University) until her death on February 3, 1948. While teaching, Waring was also painting. In 1943, the Harmon Foundation commissioned her to paint the series “Portraits of Outstanding American Citizens of Negro Origin.” A year after her death, the Howard University Gallery of Art held an exhibition of her work. Waring’s work is included in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Howard University.


• May 16, 1929 Betty Carter, jazz singer, was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. Carter studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory and by the age of 16 was singing with Charlie Parker. In 1958, she released her first solo album, “Out There With Betty Carter,” and in 1961 she recorded a series of duets with Ray Charles, including the R&B chart topping “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” In 1980, Carter released the double album “The Audience with Betty Carter” and was the subject of a documentary film, “But Then, She’s Betty Carter.” In 1988, she won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female for the album “Look What I Got” and in 1992 she was designated a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians. In 1997, Carter was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William Clinton. Carter died September 26, 1998 and in 1999 was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.


• May 16, 1929 John Conyers, Jr., the longest serving black Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was born in Highland Park, Michigan. From 1950 to 1954, Conyers served in the United States Army, serving one year in Korea where he was awarded combat and merit citations. Conyers earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1958 from Wayne State University. He was first elected to Congress in 1964 and has been reelected 22 times. During his time in Congress, Conyers served as chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1989 to 1995 and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 2007 to 2011. Conyers was a founding member and is currently the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and he introduced the first bill in Congress to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. Conyers was the 2007 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal.


• May 16, 1959 Thelma Johnson Streat, artist, dancer, and educator, died. Streat was born August 29, 1911 in Yakima, Washington. She started painting at the age of nine and first gained national recognition at 17 when her painting “A Priest” won honorable mention at the Harmon Foundation exhibit in 1929. In 1942, she became the first African American woman to have a painting exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and her most famous painting “Rabbit Man” (1941) is part of their permanent collection. Streat also painted a series of portraits of famous people of African ancestry, including Marian Anderson, Paul Roberson, and Harriett Tubman. In addition to the Museum of Modern Art, Streat’s paintings have been part of exhibits at many other museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Art, the City of Paris Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to being an artist, Streat traveled to Haiti, Mexico, and Canada to study the traditional dance and culture of indigenous people. In 1950, she performed a dance recital at Buckingham Palace for the King and Queen of England. Streat led the Children’s Education Project to introduce American youth to the contributions of African Americans through a series of murals.


• May 16, 1966 Thurman Lee Thomas, hall of fame football player, was born in Houston, Texas. Thomas played college football at Oklahoma State University and was a first team All-American in 1985 and 1987. He was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the 1988 NFL draft and over his 12 season professional career was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, 1991 NFL Most Valuable Player, and 1992 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He is also the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons. Thomas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Thomas is President and CEO of Thurman Thomas Sports Training.


• May 16, 1966 Janet Damita Jo Jackson, recording artist and actress, was born in Gary, Indiana. Jackson began performing with her family at the age of seven and started her career as an actress at ten on the television series “The Jacksons.” She also appeared on other television shows, including “Good Times” and “Fame.” Jackson released her debut album, “Janet Jackson,” in 1982 and has followed that with a series of hit albums, including “Control” (1986), “Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), “The Velvet Rope” (1997), “All for You” (2001), and “Discipline” (2008). Jackson has sold over 100 million records worldwide and been nominated for 20 Grammy Awards and won 6, including the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1993 for “That’s the Way Love Goes.” In 1993, Jackson appeared in her first starring film role in “Poetic Justice.” She has also appeared in “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” (2000), “Why Did I Get Married?” (2007), “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (2010), and “For Colored Girls” (2010).


• May 16, 1979 Asa Phillip Randolph, civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, died. Randolph was born April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida. In 1911, he moved to New York City to become an actor, but gave up on that ambition when he failed to win his parents approval. In 1917, he founded and co-edited the Messenger, a monthly magazine that campaigned against lynching and opposed United States participation in World War I. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and after years of struggle, in 1937 signed a contract with the Pullman Company which earned $2 million in pay increases for employees, a shorter work week, and overtime pay. In the early 1940s, Randolph and others proposed a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in war industries and segregation in the armed forces. The march was cancelled when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the Fair Employment Act. In 1950, Randolph was a co-founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights which has become the premier civil rights coalition. Randolph also was significantly involved in the organization of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Randolph was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1942 and in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. There are a number of schools named in his honor, including the A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center in Detroit, Michigan. In 1989, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2002 his efforts were chronicled in the television movie “10,000 Black Men Named George.” Biographies of Randolph include “A. Phillip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait” (1973) and “A. Phillip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement” (1990).


• May 16, 1990 Sammy Davis, Jr., singer, dancer, film, and stage actor, died. Davis was born December 8, 1925 in New York City. He began performing almost as soon as he could walk as part of the vaudeville Mastin Troupe. After serving in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945, in 1955 Davis recorded his first album, “Starring Sammy Davis, Jr.” In 1957, he appeared in the Broadway musical “Mr. Wonderful” and in 1959 “Porgy and Bess.” By the 1960s, he was recognized as an entertainment superstar. In 1966, he appeared in the film “A Man Called Adam” and in 1969 “Sweet Charity.” His recording of “The Candy Man” in 1972 was a number one hit. In 1968, Davis was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP and in 1987 he received Kennedy Center Honors. In 1990, Davis won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special for “Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration.” In 2001, Davis was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008 he was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. His 1962 recording “What Kind of Fool Am I?” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” Davis published three autobiographies, “Yes, I Can” (1965), “Why Me?” (1980), and “Sammy” (2000). Also, several biographies have been written about him, including “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (2003), “Sammy Davis, Jr.: Me and My Shadow” (2003), and “Deconstructing Sammy” (2008). Davis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.


• May 16, 2010 Henry “Hank” Jones, jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, died. Jones was born July 31, 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but raised in Pontiac, Michigan. He studied piano at an early age and by 13 was performing in Michigan and Ohio. In 1944, he moved to New York City and from 1948 to 1953 was accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald. From 1959 to 1975, Jones was staff pianist for CBS studio which included backing guests like Frank Sinatra on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Jones recorded prolifically as an unaccompanied soloist, in duos with other pianist, and with various small ensembles. His recordings include “Bop Redux” (1977), “I Remember You” (1977), “Steal Away” (1995), and “Round Midnight” (2006). In 1989, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians, in 2003 he received the Jazz Living Legend Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and in 2009 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2008, Jones was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George W. Bush. Jones was nominated for five Grammy Awards and in 2009 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

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