1. James C. Napier, born a slave, but he was freed along with his parents when he was about three years old. He attended all-black schools, but his education was interrupted twice by rioting white vigilantes who forced the school to close. Napier put himself through college, and after the US Civil War he became an active spokesman for the cause of freed blacks. Mentored by black Congressman John Mercer Langston, he became the first black non-janitorial employee at the Treasury Department, earned his law degree at Howard University and married Langston’s daughter. In more than a decade on the Nashville City Council, he authored legislation allowing the hiring of black school teachers, police officers, and firefighters, and became the first African-American to preside over the Council. He lost his Council seat as his Republican Party gradually shifted from supporting blacks’ rights to advocating what was called “lily white” government.
A close friend of Booker T. Washington, he remained one of the most powerful American blacks, and was appointed Register of the Treasury Department. His signature appeared on US currency until he resigned this post in 1913, to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to allow continued segregation in federal office buildings. Returning to Nashville, Napier used his own savings to establish the Nashville One-Cent Savings Bank (now Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Company), the nation’s first bank owned and operated by African-Americans. He helped organize a Negro strike against Nashville’s segregated streetcar service in 1905, and he was instrumental in the drive to establish the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State University).
2. Meta Vaux Warwick Fuller, sculptor, Her sculptures was exhibited at the salon in Paris as well as extensively in the U.S. for 60 years. Her most famous works included “Ethiopia Awakening,” “Mary Turner (A Silent Protest Against Mob Violence),” and “The Talking Skull.”
3. Johnny Ace (John Marshall Alexander, Jr.) After serving in the navy during the Korean War, Alexander joined Adolph Duncan’s Band as a pianist. He then joined the B. B. King band. Soon King departed for Los Angeles and Bobby Bland joined the army. Alexander took over vocal duties and renamed the band The Beale Streeters, also taking over King’s WDIA radio show.
Becoming “Johnny Ace”, he signed to Duke Records (originally a Memphis label associated with WDIA) in 1952. Urban ‘heart-ballad’ “My Song,” his first recording, topped the R&B charts for nine weeks in September. (“My Song” was covered in 1968 by Aretha Franklin, on the flipside of “See Saw”.)
Ace began heavy touring, often with Willa Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. In the next two years, he had eight hits in a row, including “Cross My Heart,” “Please Forgive Me,” “The Clock,” “Yes, Baby,” “Saving My Heart for You,” and “Never Let Me Go.” In December, 1954 he was named the Most Programmed Artist Of 1954 after a national DJ poll organized by U.S. trade weekly Cash Box.
Ace’s recordings sold very well for those times. Early in 1955, Duke Records announced that the three 1954 Johnny Ace recordings, along with Thornton’s “Hound Dog”, had sold more than 1,750,000 records.
4. Jackie Wilson, singer and performer. Known as “Mr. Excitement“, Wilson was important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul. He was known as a master showman, and as one of the most dynamic singers and performers in R&B and rock history. Gaining fame in his early years as a member of the R&B vocal group Billy Ward and His Dominoes, he went solo in 1957 and recorded over 50 hit singles that spanned R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop and easy listening. During a 1975 benefit concert, he collapsed on-stage from a heart attack and subsequently fell into a coma that persisted for nearly nine years until his death in 1984. By this time, he had become one of the most influential artists of his generation. A two-time Grammy Hall of Fame Inductee, Jackie Wilson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
5. David Gene “The Cobra” Parker, former player in Major League Baseball. He was the 1978 National League MVP and a two-time batting champion. Parker was the first professional athlete to earn an average of one million dollars per year, having signed a 5-year, $5 million dollar contract in January 1979. Parker’s career achievements include 2712 hits, 339 home runs, 1493 runs batted in and a lifetime batting average of .290. Parker was also known as a solid defensive outfielder during the first half of his career, with a powerful arm. From 1975 to 1979, he threw out 72 runners, including 26 in 1977. He was a baseball All-Star in 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1986, and 1990. In the 1979 All-Star Game, Parker showcased his defensive ability and powerful arm by throwing out Jim Rice at third base and Angels catcher Brian Downing at home. Parker also contributed an RBI on a sacrifice fly and was named the game’s MVP.
6. Gloria Reuben, singer and actress of film and television, known for her role as Jeanie Boulet on the popular hit medical drama ER and for her role of Rosalind Whitman in the TV show Raising the Bar.
7. Wayman Lawrence Tisdale, was professional basketball player in the NBA and a smooth jazz bass guitarist. A three-time All American at the University of Oklahoma, he was elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.