Theatre/the Arts

Those who serve as Black examples in dance, painting, sculptor, stage performance, and more.

Robert Todd Duncan, an original

Todd Duncan

*On this date in 1903, Robert Todd Duncan was born in Danville, KY. He was an African American singer.

Georgia Taylor, an original Jubilee Singer

Georgia Taylor

Georgia Gordon Taylor’s birth in 1855 is celebrated on this date. She was an African American vocalist.

From Nashville, Tennessee, she had a mulatto mother, Mercy Duke Gordon and a slave father, George Gordon. Mercy's mother was white, and the law required that children of free mothers were free. Mercy had another child, Elwina, fathered by a white man (a "Doctor Warner") before she married Gordon. Gordon was allowed to live in his free spouse's household, hire out his own time, and pay part of his wages to his owner. Mercy and George had two children: Governor B. and Georgia.

"Buster" Brown, one of Tap Dancings best

"Buster" Brown

"Buster" Brown’s birth in 1913 is celebrated on this date. He was an African American Tap dancer and entertainer.

Nell Carter, pure southern talent

Nell Carter

*Nell Carter was born on this date in 1948. She was an African American singer and actress.

From Birmingham, Alabama while growing up, Carter listened to her mother's recordings of Dinah Washington and B. B. King, and her brother's Elvis Presley records. She liked Doris Day, the Andrews Sisters, Johnny Mathis, and admired the work of Cleo Laine and Barbra Streisand. Early in her career, she performed as a singer on the gospel circuit. She moved on to coffeehouses and nightclubs in her hometown, before going on to New York.

"Porgy and Bess" opens on Broadway to mixed reviews

On this date in 1935,"Porgy and Bess" opened on Broadway. This was the first American folk opera about the lives of Black Americans.

"Porgy and Bess" was first performed in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. It tells the story of African American life in the fictitious Catfish Row (based on the real-life Cabbage Row) in Charleston, S.C. in the early 1920s.

Gifted hands, William Artis

William. E. Artis

*On this date in 1914 William Ellisworth Artis was born. He was an African-American artist.

From Washington, N.C. young Artis moved to New York in 1927. He studied sculpture and pottery at Augusta Savage Studios in the early 1930s and was a part of the Harmon Foundation exhibition in 1933. He received the John Hope Prize, which led to a scholarship at the Art Students League in 1933-34. Artis was hired by Audrey McMahon, the director of the College Art Association, along with several other artists to teach crafts and paint murals in churches and community centers.

William A. Harpe, gifted Black artist

William. A. Harper

William A. Harper was born on this date in 1873. He was an African American artist.

He was born in Canada, studied in Paris, and was considered one of the most gifted Black artists at the turn of the 20th century. At age 8, Harper and his family moved to Illinois and settled on a farm where he developed his love for nature and art. He attended a small college in Jacksonville, Illinois, and later went to Chicago and enrolled at the Chicago Institute School of the Art, where in 1900, he graduated with honors.

Archibald Motley, artist of African American life

Archibald Motley Jr.

On this date in 1891, Archibald J. Motley, Jr. was born. He was an African American artist.

He was born in New Orleans, to Archibald Motley, Sr., and Mary Huff. His family moved to Chicago, where his father worked as a Pullman Porter, and the family settled into a quiet neighborhood on the West Side. In his home he would listen to his father and A. Phillip Randolph discuss the organization of the Pullman Porter’s Union. He also watched his nephew Williard Motley struggle to write. The hard work and ambition that he witnessed as a child would carry him through his artistic career.

One of Florida's finest, Hughie Lee Smith

Hughie Lee-Smith

*Hughie Lee Smith was born on this date in 1915,. He was an African American artist.

From Eustis Florida, his parents were Luther and Alice Williams Smith. Later he changed his last name to Lee-Smith after he and his art school classmates decided Smith was too ordinary a name for a distinguished painter. Lee-Smith began drawing at a very early age. Shaped by the Great Depression and the WPA artists of the late 1930s, Lee-Smith's earliest work was fired by social concerns and longing for a better, more democratic ideal for the future of America.

Eldzier Cortor, a gifted artist

The Night Letter (1938)
Eldzier Cortor

*Eldzier Cortor was born on this date in 1916. He was an African American artist.

He was born in Richmond, VA, to John and Ophelia Cortor, who were economically secure. His family moved to Chicago when he was about a year old. After a few years they moved to the West Side where Archibald Motley’s family lived. Cortor’s earliest influence in art was in comic strips. His favorite was "Bungleton Green," created by Leslie Rogers. He would copy them and dream of creating his own.