1. Benjamin Banneker, self-educated scientist, astronomer, inventor, writer, and antislavery publicist. He built a striking clock entirely from wood, published a Farmers’ Almanac for 10 years, completed the design and layout of Washington, D.C., and actively campaigned against slavery. He was one of the first African Americans to gain distinction in science.
2. Dorothy Dandridge, actress and popular singer, and was the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She performed as a vocalist in venues such as the Nathan Featherston and the Apollo Theater.
After several minor bit parts in films, Dandridge landed her first noted film role in Tarzan’s Peril (starring Lex Barker), in 1951. Dandridge won her first starring role in 1953, playing a teacher in a low-budget film with a nearly all-black cast, Bright Road, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
She was nominated in 1954 for an Academy Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Carmen Jones, and in 1959 she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Porgy and Bess. In 1999, she was the subject of the HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry as Dandridge. She has been recognized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
3. Dion James, Major League Baseball Player, played as left and center fielder for an eleven-year career from 1983–1985, 1987–1990, 1992–1993, 1995-1996. James starred at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, California before being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round (25th overall) in the 1980 Amateur Entry Draft. He played for the Brewers, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees all of the American League and the Atlanta Braves of the National League. James was the Brewers’ Rookie of the Year in 1984
4. Sandra Denton, known as Pepa, Is a Rapp and hip hop artist, actress, and a member of the female rap trio Salt-N-Pepa.
5. Mark Durrell Andrews, known by his stage name Sisqó, is an R&B singer and actor. He is best known as the lead singer of R&B group Dru Hill, and also for “Thong Song”, a song from his first solo LP, Unleash the Dragon, that became an international hit.
1. Esther Rolle, Actress actress. She was perhaps best known for her portrayal of Florida Evans on the CBS television sitcom Maude and its spin-off series Good Times.
2. Minnie Julia Riperton, Singer-songwriter best known for her vocal range of more than five octaves and her 1975 single “Lovin’ You”. She was married to songwriter and music producer Richard Rudolph from 1968 until her death in 1979; they were the parents of music engineer Marc Rudolph and actress/comedienne Maya Rudolph.
3. Alfre Woodard, film, stage, and television actress. She has been nominated once for anAcademy Award and Grammy Awards, 17 times for Emmy Awards (winning four), and has also won a Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild Awards.
She is known for her role in films such as Cross Creek, Miss Firecracker, Grand Canyon, Passion Fish, Primal Fear, Star Trek: First Contact, Miss Evers’ Boys, K-PAX, Radio, Take the Lead and The Family That Preys.
1. Alexa Canady, the first Woman and first African American to become a Neurosurgeon in America. From Lansing Michigan, Alexa Irene Canady is the daughter of Elizabeth Hortense (Golden) Canady and Clinton Canady Jr. Her father was a graduate of the School of Dentistry of Meharry Medical College, practicing in Lansing. Her mother was a graduate of Fiasco University was active for years in civic affairs of Lansing. She also served as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
1. Absalom Jones, was an abolitionist and clergyman. After founding a black congregation in 1794, in 1804 he was the first African-American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States. He is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saints and blessed under the date of his decease, February 13, in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as “Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818”.
2. Derrick Albert Bell, Jr., was the first tenured African-American professor of Law at Harvard University, and largely credited as the originator of Critical Race Theory. He was the former dean of the University of Oregon School of Law.
1. Margaret Taylor-Burroughs, Was a prominent artist and writer and a co-founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History. She also helped to establish the South Side Community Art Center, whose opening on May 1, 1941 was dedicated by the First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt . There at the age of 23 she served as the youngest member of its board of directors. Dr. Burroughs was a prolific writer, with her efforts directed toward the exploration of the Black experience and to children, especially to their appreciation of their cultural identity and to their introduction and growing awareness of art.
Dr. Burroughs is also credited as the founder of Chicago’s Lake Meadows Art Fair in the early 1950’s. At its inception, during the 1950’s, there were very limited venues and galleries for African American Artists to exhibit and sell their artwork, Dr. Burroughs, launched the Lake Meadows Art Fair which rapidly grew in popularity and The Lake Meadows Art Fair became one of the most anticipated exhibitions for artists, collectors and others throughout the greater Chicago area. After a brief hiatus beginning in the early 1980’s, the Art Fair was resurrected by Helen Y. West in 2005, and another Margaret Burroughs’ legacy lives on.
2. Gary Eugene Redus, a former professional baseball player who played in the Major Leagues primarily as an outfielder from 1982-1994. He was a career .252 batter with 90 home runs, 886 hits, 352 RBIs and 322 stolen bases over 1159 games.
1. Ruby Dee, actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist, perhaps best known for co-starring in the film A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and the film American Gangster (2007) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
1. Chuck Berry (Charles Edward Anderson Berry), guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and considered one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics focusing on teen life and consumerism and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music.
2. Ntozake Shange( Paulette Williams), playwright, and poet. As a self proclaimed black feminist, much of the content of her work addresses issues relating to race and feminism. Shange is best-known for the Obie Award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. She also wrote Betsey Brown, a novel about an African American girl who runs away from home. Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize.
3. Terry McMillan, Novelist, editor, and educator, author. Her interest in books comes from working at alibrary when she was sixteen. She received her BA in journalism in 1986 at University of California, Berkeley. Her work is characterized by strong female protagonists. Her first book, Mama, was self-published. She achieved national attention in 1992 with her third novel, Waiting to Exhale, which remained on The New York Times bestseller list for many months. In 1995, Forest Whitaker turned it into a film starring Whitney Houston. In 1998, another of McMillan’s novels, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, was made into a movie. McMillan’s novel Disappearing Acts was subsequently produced as a direct-to-cable feature, starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan. She also wrote the best seller A Day Late and a Dollar Short. The Interruption of Everything was published on July 19, 2005. Getting to Happy, the long-awaited sequel toWaiting to Exhale, was published on September 7, 2010.
4. Tommy Hearns, retired boxer. He won 8 world titles in six different weight divisions. Hearns became the first boxer in history to win world titles in four divisions. He would also become the first fighter in history to conquer 5 world titles in 5 different divisions. He has scored many memorable knockouts in his career and is widely considered to be one of the greatest knockout artists of all time. Hearns was voted the greatest Super Welterweight of all time and received the “Fighter of the Year” award in 1980 and 1984.
He fought 21 current, past or future world champions. Blessed with exceptional height for a welterweight (6’1″), a broad back, and unusually long arms, Hearns had a unique build combined with destructive punching power. He is known best for his devastating right hand, his powerful left hook and for carrying his left hand low—a stance he used to lure foes into an exchange, as well as to maximize the speed and change the angle of his jab, a technique called the “flicker jab”.
As a fighter, his aggression set him apart, controlling fights with his incredible reach, power and great boxing skills. He lost only one decision in his entire career, at the age of 33, to Iran “The Blade” Barkley.
5. Wynton Learson Marsalis, Trumpeter, composer, bandleader, music educator, and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Marsalis has promoted the appreciation of classical and jazz music often to young audiences. Marsalis has been awarded nine Grammys in both genres, and was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Music for a jazz recording. Marsalis is the son of jazz musician Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (pianist), grandson to Ellis Marsalis, Sr., and brother to Branford (saxophonist),Delfeayo (trombonist), Mboya, and Jason (drummer).
6. Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley-Grace (born October 18, 1968) is an American R&B/gospel singer and actress, best known for her 1988 ballad, “Thanks for My Child.”
Cheryl Riley, who worked as a nurse for handicapped children for ten years before beginning her singing career, topped the US R&B chartand hit the Top 40 on the pop chart at #32 with the 1988 ballad, “Thanks for My Child,” a song written by Full Force. It peaked at #75 in theUK Singles Chart in January 1989. The genesis of “Thanks for My Child” began with Full Force member Bowlegged Lou’s experience with the complications of his wife’s first pregnancy.
As pivotal as “Thanks for My Child” was for Riley’s career, it was not the first song Lou offered to her. She refused his offer to record “I Wonder If I Take You Home” because she did not want to spread herself too thin, but after it became a million-selling hit for Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam in 1985, she thought she had missed her big break. Lou then offered her “Thanks for My Child”. Riley still had her nurse’s job when the song went to number one on the R&B chart.
The title track single to her debut LP Me Myself and I made it to number 18 on the R&B charts in early 1989. Another single, “Every Little Thing About You,” peaked at number 55 on the R&B charts later that year. Her second LP, Chapters, was issued and yielded the singles “How Can You Hurt the One You Love” and a cover of Aretha Franklin’s 1968 hit “Ain’t No Way”. Her third album All That! was released by Reprise, and featured the singles “Gimme” and “Guess I’m in Love.”
After a hiatus from the entertainment industry, Riley re-emerged in the early 2000s as a star in a number of gospel plays for best-selling playwright Tyler Perry, including Madea’s Class Reunion, Madea Goes to Jail, Why Did I Get Married? and the film version of Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Big Happy Family.
1. Russell Wendell Simmons, is an Entrepreneur, the co-founder, with Rick Rubin, of the pioneering hip-hoplabel Def Jam, and creator of the clothing fashion lines Phat Farm, Argyleculture, and American Classics.
Russell Simmons is the younger brother of Daniel Simmons, Jr., and he is the older brother of Rev. Joseph Simmons, better known as “Run” of Run-DMC, and son of Daniel Simmons, Sr, a public school administrator and Evelyn Simmons, a New York City park administrator. His brother Daniel Simmons, Jr., is an accomplished abstract artist.
Russell Simmons is the third richest figure in hip-hop, having a net-worth estimate of $340 million.
2. Clifton Duncan Davis, is an actor, songwriter and minister. He has appeared on the television shows as A World Apart, That’s My Mama and Amen. Davis also wrote several hits for The Jackson 5, including “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Lookin’ Through the Windows”
3. William Augustus Hatcher, is a former left and center fielder in Major League Baseball player for theChicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers, and former first base coach for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Hatcher is currently first base coach for the Reds.
4 A.C. Green, Jr., is a retired American NBA basketball player who played in more consecutive games than any other player in NBA and ABA history. With 1,192 straight games played, he earned the nickname “Iron Man”. He played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. He was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and attended Benson Polytechnic High School. He was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. He played in 1278 out of 1281 games in his career (99.8%), with the three he missed coming in his second season, 1986–87.
1. Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was a ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer.
Widely recognized as a pivotal figure in early jazz, Morton is perhaps most notable as jazz’s first arranger, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential spirit and characteristics when notated. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. Morton is also notable for naming and popularizing the “Spanish tinge” of exotic rhythms, and for penning suchstandards as “Wolverine Blues,” “Black Bottom Stomp,” and “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”, the latter a tribute to turn-of-the-century New Orleans personalities.
2. Clarice Taylor, stage, film and television actress, best-known for her recurring role on television on The Cosby Show as Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable’s (Bill Cosby) mother, Anna Huxtable. She was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1986 for the role. She also played Harriet on Sesame Street and appeared as Grady’s cousin Emma on Sanford and Son.
3. Chico Hamilton (born Foreststorn Hamilton), jazz drummer and bandleader. He had a fast-track musical education in a band with Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Ernie Royal, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and Jack Kelso. Engagements with Lionel Hampton, Slim & Slam, T-Bone Walker, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnet, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and six years with Lena Horne established him as a jazz drummer, and he struck out on his own as a bandleader in 1955.
1. Cora Calhoun (Lovie) Austin, Chicago bandleader, session musician, composer, and arranger during the 1920s classic blues era. She and Lil Hardin Armstrong are often ranked as two of the best female jazz blues piano players of the period.
2. Billy Ward, The second of three sons of Charles Williams and Cora Bates Williams, and was a child musical prodigy, winning an award for a piano composition at the age of 14. Following military service with the U.S. Army he studied music in Chicago, and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. While working as a vocal coach and part-time arranger on Broadway, he met talent agent Rose Marks, who became his business and songwriting partner. Billy Ward and His Dominoes vocal group, one of the best-selling R&B groups of the 1950s began the careers of both Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson.
3. Brook Benton, singer and songwriter who was popular with rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and pop music audiences during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he scored hits such as “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” and “Endlessly”, many of which he co-wrote.
He made a comeback in 1970 with the ballad “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Benton scored over 50 Billboard chart hits as an artist, and also wrote hits for other performers.
4. Freda Charcilia Payne, singer and actress best known for her million selling, 1970hit single, “Band of Gold”. She was also an actress in musicals and film, as well as the host of a TV talk show. Freda is the older sister of former Supremes member, Scherrie Payne. Starred in Black Horror movie “Rag Doll”
5. Nile Gregory Rodgers, musician, composer, arranger, and guitarist. Rodgers began his career as a session guitarist in New York, touring with the Sesame Street band in his teens, and then working in the house band at Harlem’s world famous Apollo Theater, playing behind Screaming Jay Hawkins, Maxine Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King,Betty Wright, Earl Lewis and the Channels, Parliament Funkadelic, and many other legendary R&B artists.
Nile met bassist Bernard Edwards in 1970. Together they formed The Big Apple Band that backed R&B act New York City (“I’m Doing Fine Now”). The band’s one hit allowed them to tour extensively, even opening for The Jackson 5 on the American leg of their first world tour in 1973. The band dissolved after their second album failed to yield a hit, but Nile and Bernard joined forces with drummer Tony Thompson, and worked and recorded as a Funk Rock band called The Boys, which played numerous gigs up and down the East Coast. Despite major label interest in their demos, they could not get a record deal when the record companies discovered they were black; the excuse was that black rock artists would be too hard to promote. The band continued playing mostly local bars.
As The Big Apple Band, Rodgers and Edwards worked with Ashford & Simpson, Luther Vandross and many others. Since another New York artist, Walter Murphy, had a band also called The Big Apple Band, Rodgers and Edwards were forced to change their band’s name to avoid confusion. Thus, in 1977 the band was renamed as Chic. Between gigs they recorded their first album with then-boss Luther Vandross, who provided background vocals on the group’s early recordings. The band scored numerous top ten hits and helped propel disco to new levels of popularity. Chic’s chart-topping songs “Le Freak”, “I Want Your Love”, “Everybody Dance”, “Dance, Dance, Dance”, “My Forbidden Lover”, and “Good Times” have become club/pop/R&B standards. “Le Freak” is Atlantic Records’ only triple platinum selling single and “Good Times” shot to the #1 spot.
The success of Chic’s first singles led Atlantic to offer Rodgers and Edwards the opportunity to produce any act on its roster. They chose Sister Sledge, whose 1978 album, We Are Family, peaked at #3 and remained on the charts well into 1979. The first two singles, “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and the title cut “We Are Family” both reached #1 on the R&B chart, and #6 and #2, respectively on the Pop chart. “He’s the Greatest Dancer” was sampled in 1998 to create Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”.
6. Kevin Hooks, actor, and a television and film director; he is notable from his roles in Aaron Loves Angela & Sounder, but may be best-known as Morris Thorpe from TV’s The White Shadow.
In 1986, he starred in the short-lived ABC sitcom He’s the Mayor. He directed Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57 and also Laurence Fishburneand Stephen Baldwin in Fled. Hooks worked as a director and producer on the series Prison Break. He also directed two episodes from the first season of Lost, “White Rabbit” and “Homecoming”.
In 2003, Hooks revisited Sounder. He directed ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney’s TV remake of the film, with Paul Winfield, his co-star from the original, playing a different role.
Hooks was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Yvonne, a state employee, and Robert Hooks, a director and actor who starred in many films in the 1970s. Kevin’s nickname amongst his friends is “King Royal”.
7. Sanaa McCoy Lathan, Actress and voice actress. She has starred in numerous movies, including the box-office hits Love & Basketball, Alien vs. Predator, Something New, and The Family That Preys. Lathan was nominated for aTony Award for her performance on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun. In 2010 she starred in the all-black performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Novello Theatre in London.
8. María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien, television personality. She is currently the host of the “In America” documentary unit on CNN, and is best known for anchoring the CNN marquee morning newscast American Morning from July 2003 to April 2007, with Miles O’Brien. Their common surname is coincidental.