The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, was an icon with a commanding stage presence and whose rich contralto voice powerfully wove together stories about liberation, empowerment, and love. She became a voice to power for the black American community. Nina sang from a diverse catalog – jazz, classical, folk, blues, gospel, and covers of contemporary popular artists such as Bob Dylan. She recorded more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974.
I’d hesitate to say someone could be called a Boss Bitch at 15 years old. But, if anyone could, it would be Marsai Martin. She’s an actress and the youngest executive producer in Hollywood.
Wanda Sykes is an award-winning comedian, writer, and actress with a brilliant style of stand-up comedy that she’s been doing since the late 1980s. She is the first African-American woman to star in her own prime-time sitcoms and the first to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and she was also the first out lesbian to do so). She is a strong, confident, hilarious, driven woman who has found her voice and uses it well.
Last year during Black History Month I tried to do a post every day about an innovative black American whose name was likely not currently common knowledge, starting with Carter G. Woodson, the historian who started Black History Month, and ending with Octavia Butler, a science fiction writer. And, I tried to not focus on the “predictable” focus areas of black excellence, such as athletics and music. I wanted to hi-light how time and time again black Americans fought adversity, excelled, and changed our world, such as with Percy Julian, who was instrumental in creating birth control, or Bayard Rustin, the civil rights and gay rights activist who brought the non-violent teachings of Ghandi to MLK Jr. Continue reading
Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, artist, writer, and film director. Not only was he prominent in photo-documentary of the black experience from the 1940s to 1970s, he was a cultural pioneer. He was the first African-American photographer to work for the FSA, Life magazine, and Vogue, and to direct a major Hollywood motion picture. While his photography is what he should be best known for, most know him as the creator of the “blaxploitation” genre of films.
Marsha P. Johnson was an over-all badass gender-nonconforming drag queen, sex worker, and gay liberation activist. She was representative of some of the most marginalized communities – black, queer, poor, homeless, mentally ill, and physically sick. But, she was a fighter – a pioneer for the LGBTQ movement.
Romare Bearden is another black American I’ll feature for #BlackHistoryMonth who is not un-famous, but whose name should be more recognized than it is. Bearden was an artist and art-historian of black art. He celebrated the black experience through oil and watercolor painting and collage that incorporated torn magazine images.
The Holocaust survivor, writer, and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel has died aged 87 at his home in Manhattan.
His words had power. Let’s remember some of them.
Performing at the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam