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African American Firsts

Henry Lewis:  The First African American Conductor Of A Major Symphony Orchestra

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henry lewis
Henry Lewis (1932 – 1996)

Henry Lewis (1932 – 1963) was born in Los Angeles, California.  His father worked as a car dealer and his mother was a nurse.  He began taking piano lessons at age 5.  Lewis would also learn to play a number of stringed instruments including the clarinet.  His talent in playing the double base earned him a scholarship to UCLA.  When he was 16 years old, he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  This made Lewis the first black instrumentalist in a major symphony orchestra.  He later joined the military.  During his military service, he conducted the Seventh Army Symphony based in Germany from 1955 – 1956.

In 1961 he accepted the role of assistant conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the leadership of Zubin Mehta.  He served in this role until 1965.  Lewis then relocated to New Jersey in 1968 and became music director and conductor of the New Jersey Symphony. He was the first African American conduct to hold these roles for a major symphony orchestra.    At the time he took over it was small,  community ensemble.  Under his leadership, the group gained national renown as an orchestra, had a schedule of 100+ concerts per year with a budget exceeding $1 million dollars annually.  In 1972 he was also the first African American to conduct the Metropolitan Opera.  Lewis was married to famous white opera singer Marilyn Horne from 1960-1979.  The couple had one daughter, Angela in 1965.  They divorced in 1974.

Lewis retired from the New Jersey Symphony in 1976 but continued to tour extensively as a guest conductor for almost 20 years until his death.  He was a widely acclaimed musician and conductor; a true trailblazer.  At age 63, he died of a heart attack in 1996.

Sources:

https://aaregistry.org/story/henry-lewis-first-black-conductor-of-a-major-symphony-orchestra/

https://blackthen.com/henry-lewis-conductor-broke-racial-barriers-u-s-orchestras/

https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/lewis-henry-jay-1932-1996/

Jewel Plummer Cobb: African American Cancer Researcher and Scientist 

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jewel plumber cobb
Jewel Plumber Cobb (1924 – 2017)

Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924 – 2017) grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Her groundbreaking research studied the relationship between skin pigmentation and cancer. She was also a staunch advocate for increasing the number of women and students of color in STEM careers.  Her father, Frank Plummer was a doctor and her mother, Carriebel Cole Plummer, was physical education and dance teacher. Cobb’s grandfather was formerly enslaved man who received his freedom and graduated from Howard University in 1898, earning a degree in pharmacy. Continue reading “Jewel Plummer Cobb: African American Cancer Researcher and Scientist “

Outdoor Afro: “Where Black People And Nature Meet”

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outdoor afro

Rue Mapp launched Outdoor Afro in 2009 via a blog and Facebook. Mapp is a former analyst with Morgan Stanley. Outdoor Afro is a labor of love and combines her passion for nature, community, and technology. The organization is focused on reigniting the connection of African Americans to nature and the outdoors.

Using social media, Mapp began writing about her fondness for nature as well as consistently being the only black person on camping and hiking excursions. Her experiences resonated with many of her social media and blog followers. Through social media she organized outdoor recreational events with the help of trained volunteer leaders. Outdoor activities included hiking, bird watching, skiing, biking, etc., for African Americans across the country. Outdoor Afro has 30 trained leaders and 7,000 active members.

Continue reading “Outdoor Afro: “Where Black People And Nature Meet””

The Black Mozart:  Joseph Bologne, Recognized As One Of The First Classical Composers of African Descent.     

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joseph-bologne-chevalier-de-saint-georges
Joseph Bologne (1745 – 1799) 

Joseph Bologne (1745 – 1799) was known as “The Black Mozart”.  A violinist and classical music composer,  Bologne is recognized as one of the first classical composers of African descent.  He also played the harpsichord. Bologne was the son of a wealthy French planter and an enslaved African woman on a Caribbean plantation in Guadelupe.  He was sent to Paris as a teen to be educated and graduated from Académie royale polytechnique des armes et de ‘l’équitation (fencing and horsemanship).  He later became an officer in the king’s bodyguard where he was given the title “Chevalier de Saint-Georges”.  Continue reading “The Black Mozart:  Joseph Bologne, Recognized As One Of The First Classical Composers of African Descent.     “

Michelle Obama: Dropping Knowledge

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“If you’re afraid to use your voice, give up your seat at the table.” -Michelle Obama

54th Anniversary of “I Have A Dream Speech”

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

August 28, 2017 marks the 54th anniversary of the historic “I Have A Dream Speech” given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in Washington, DC during the March on Washington.  More than 200,000 flooded the capital for the historic speech.  Below are some little known facts about the March that you may not know.

  • The March on Washington along with the speech given by Dr. King was said to pressure President Kennedy to approve federal civil rights legislation in Congress.
  • Dr. King was not the “originator” of the “I have a dream” language contained in his speech. It is likely that this language was first used by then 22 year old Prathia Hall after the burning of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1962.  King had preached at a church service following the bombing.  Prathia Hall prayed during the service.  During her prayer she shared the “I have a dream” language.  Check out our previous Black Mail post for more information on Prathia Hall.  https://wordpress.com/post/blackmail4u.com/169
  • Originally, the speech was entitled, “Normalcy – Never Again” and did not contain any “I have a dream” wording. Dr. King was encouraged by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who whispered to him during the speech, “Tell ‘em about the dream Martin.  Tell em’ about the dream.“
  • Dr. King was the last speaker of the day. Many of the march participants, had already left to return to their homes and missed the historic speech.
  • William Sullivan, head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division wrote a memo after the speech labeling Dr. King “as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”
  • King’s speech, initially did not get much attention in the media. The march itself received most of the media attention.  By the time of King’s death in 1968, the speech, had been largely forgotten.
  • Dr. King first shared, “I have a dream” during a speech in Detroit two months before the March on Washington. Several of his staffers actually tried to discourage him from using the language again.

Check out a video excerpt of the speech:

Source(s):

Blackmail4u.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I47Y6VHc3Ms&feature=yout

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/08/i-have-a-dream-speech-facts-trivia.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/us/mlk-i-have-a-dream-9-things/index.html

Viola Davis:  Joins An Elite Group Of Actors By Winning Emmy, Tony, & Oscar Awards

Black History:  Special Delivery!!



Viola Davis has joined a signature group of actors by wining  an Emmy, Oscar, and Tony award. On 2/26/17 Davis completed the “triple crown” by winning the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in “Fences”. 

Bravo Queen!! We salute you!

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