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Harlem Renaissance Profiles


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Harlem Renaissance Profiles

  1. 1. Billie Holiday Singer, jazz vocalist. and she and her mother went to court over Holiday’s truancy. She was then Born Eleanora sent to the House of Good Shepherd, Fagan on April a facility for troubled African American 7, 1915, in girls, in January 1925. Only 9 years old MUSIC Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. at the time, Holiday was one of the youngest girls there. She was returned (Some sources to her mother’s care in August of that say Baltimore, year. According to Donald Clarke’s Maryland. Her biography, Billie Holiday: Wishing on the birth certificate reportedly reads Moon, she returned there in 1926 after “Elinore Harris.”) One of the most she had been sexually assaulted. influential jazz singers of all time, Billie In her difficult early life, Holiday Holiday had a thriving career for many found solace in music, singing along to years before her battles with substance the records of Bessie Smith and Louis abuse got the better of her. Armstrong. She followed her mother Holiday spent much of her child- who had moved to New York City in hood in Baltimore, Maryland. Her the late 1920s and worked in a house mother, Sadie, was only a teenager of prostitution in Harlem for a time. when she had her. Her father is widely Around 1930, Holiday began singing in believed to be Clarence Holiday, who local clubs and renamed herself “Billie” eventually became a successful jazz mu- after the film star Billie Dove. sician, playing with the likes of Fletcher Henderson. Unfortunately for Billie, he was only an infrequent visitor in her life growing up. Sadie married Philip Gough in 1920 and for a few years Billie had a somewhat stable home life. But that marriage ended a few years later, leav- ing Billie and Sadie to struggle along on their own again. Sometimes Billie was left in the care of other people. Holiday started skipping school, PLAY MOVIE THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE | SS1101
  2. 2. Paul Robeson The son of a former slave turned Increasing political awareness preacher, Robeson attended Rutgers impelled Robeson to visit the Soviet University in New Brunswick, N.J., Union in 1934, and from that year he where he was an All-America football became increasingly identified with player. Upon graduating from Rutgers strong left-wing commitments, while THEATER at the head of his class, he rejected a continuing his success in concerts, career as a professional athlete and recordings, and theatre. In 1950 the instead entered Columbia University. U.S. State Department withdrew his He obtained a law degree in 1923, but, passport because he refused to sign because of the lack of opportunity for an affidavit disclaiming membership in blacks in the legal profession, he drifted the Communist Party. In the following to the stage, making a London debut years he was virtually ostracized for in 1922. He joined the Provincetown his political views, although in 1958 the Players, a New York theatre group that Supreme Court overturned the affida- included playwright Eugene O’Neill, vit ruling. Robeson then left the United and appeared in O’Neill’s play All States to live in Europe and travel in God’s Chillun Got Wings in 1924. His countries of the Soviet bloc, but he subsequent appearance in the title role returned to the United States in 1963 of O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones caused because of ill health. a sensation in New York City (1924) Robeson appeared in a number of and London (1925). He also starred in films, including Sanders of the River the film version of the play (1933). In (1935), Show Boat (1936), Song of addition to his other talents, Robeson Freedom (1936), and The Proud Valley had a superb bass-baritone singing (1940). His autobiography, Here I Stand, voice. In 1925 he gave his first vocal was published in 1958. recital of African American spirituals in Greenwich Village, New York City, and he became world famous as Joe in the musical play Show Boat with his version of “Ol’ Man River.” His charac- terization of the title role in Othello in London (1930) won high praise, as did the Broadway production (1943), which set an all-time record run for a Shakespearean play on Broadway. PLAY MOVIE THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE | SS1101
  3. 3. Langston Hughes Poet, writer, playwright. Born Febru- (1949), in the 1960s he returned to the ary 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. After stage with works that drew on black LITERATURE publishing his first poem, “The Negro gospel music, such as Black Nativity Speaks of Rivers” (1921), he attended (1961). Columbia University (1921), but left A prolific writer for four decades, after one year to work on a freighter, he abandoned the Marxism of his travelling to Africa, living in Paris and youth, but never gave up protesting the Rome, and supporting himself with odd injustices committed against his fellow jobs. After his poetry was promoted African Americans. Among his most by Vachel Linday, he attended Lincoln popular creations was Jesse B Semple, University (1925–9), and while there his better known as “Simple,”a black Every- first book of poems, The Weary Blues man featured in the syndicated column (1926), launched his career as a writer. he began in 1942 for the Chicago As one of the founders of the cul- Defender. tural movement known as the Har- In his later years, Hughes completed a lem Renaissance, which he practically two-volume autobiography and edited defined in his essay, “The Negro Artist anthologies and pictorial volumes. Be- and the Radical Mountain” (1926), he cause he often employed humour and was innovative in his use of jazz rhythms seldom portrayed or endorsed violent and dialect to depict the life of urban confrontations, he was for some years blacks in his poetry, stories, and plays. disregarded as a model by black writers, Having provided the lyrics for the musi- but by the 1980s he was being reap- cal Street Scene (1947) and the play praised and was newly appreciated as a that inspired the opera Troubled Island significant voice of African-Americans. One of Langston Hughes’ most poignant poems is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1921). Click the icon to the left to hear it. PLAY STOP THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE | SS1101