Tagged with "activist"
Civil Rights Activist, Baseball Player - Hank Aaron
Category: Black Men Rock!
Tags: Hank aaron activist baseball player major leauge word life production new quality entertainment feature

Considered one of the best baseball players of all time, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home-run record when he hit his 715th home run in 1974. He later set a new MLB record with 755 career home runs.

Born into humble circumstances on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama, Hank Aaron ascended the ranks of the Negro Leagues to become a Major League Baseball icon. Aaron played as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves for nearly 23 years, during which time he broke many of baseball's most distinguished records, including most career home runs (755)—a record that stood for more than two decades.

American baseball icon Hank Aaron, nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank," is widely regarded as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the sport. For nearly 23 years (1954–76), Aaron played as an outfielder for the Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers, setting several records and winning a number of honors along the way.

Aaron continues to hold many of baseball's most distinguished records today, including runs batted in (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), total bases (6,856) and most years with 30 or more home runs (15). He is also ranked one of baseball's Top 5 players for career hits and runs. For more than two decades, Aaron held the record for most career home runs (755), surpassing Babe Ruth's home-run record on April 8, 1974. Barry Bonds broke the record on August 7, 2007, when he scored his 756th home run in San Francisco, California.

Born Henry Louis Aaron on February 5, 1934, in a poor black section of Mobile, Alabama, called "Down The Bay," Hank Aaron was the third of eight children born to Estella and Herbert Aaron, who made a living as a tavern owner and a dry dock boilermaker's assistant.

Aaron and his family moved to the middle-class Toulminville neighborhood when he was 8 years old. Aaron developed a strong affinity for baseball and football at a young age, and tended to focus more heavily on sports than his studies. During his freshman and sophomore years, he attended Central High School, a segregated high school in Mobile, where he excelled at both football and baseball. On the baseball diamond, he played shortstop and third base.

In his junior year, Aaron transferred to the Josephine Allen Institute, a neighboring private school that had an organized baseball program. Before the end of his first year at Allen, he had more than proved his abilities on the baseball field. Then, perhaps sensing that he had a bigger future ahead of him, in 1951, the 18-year-old Aaron quit school to play for the Negro Baseball League's Indianapolis Clowns.

It wasn't a long stay. After leading his club to victory in the league's 1952 World Series, in June 1952, Aaron was recruited by the Milwaukee Braves (formerly of Boston and later of Atlanta) for $10,000. The Braves assigned their new player to one of their farm clubs, The Eau Claire Bears. Again, Aaron did not disappoint, earning the esteemed title of "Northern League Rookie of the Year."

Hank Aaron made his Major League debut in 1954, at age 20, when a spring training injury to a Braves outfielder created a roster spot for him. Following a respectable first year (he hit .280), Aaron charged through the 1955 season with a blend of power (27 home runs), run production (106 runs batted in), and average (.328) that would come to define his long career. In 1956, after winning the first of two batting titles, Aaron registered an unrivaled 1957 season, taking home the National League MVP and nearly nabbing the Triple Crown by hitting 44 home runs, knocking in another 132, and batting .322.

Star Player

That same year, Aaron demonstrated his ability to come up big when it counted most. His 11th inning home run in late September propelled the Braves to the World Series, where he led underdog Milwaukee to an upset win over the New York Yankees in seven games.

With the game still years away from the multimillion-dollar contracts that would later dominate player salaries, Aaron's annual pay in 1959 was around $30,000. When he equaled that amount that same year in endorsements, Aaron realized there may be more in store for him if he continued to hit for power. "I noticed that they never had a show called 'Singles Derby,'" he once explained.

He was right, of course, and over the next decade and a half, the always-fit Aaron banged out a steady stream of 30 and 40 home run seasons. In 1973, at the age of 39, Aaron was still a force, clubbing a remarkable 40 home runs to finish just one run behind Babe Ruth's all-time career mark of 714.

Obstacles

But the chase to beat the Babe's record revealed that world of baseball was far from being free of the racial tensions that prevailed around it. Letters poured into the Braves offices, as many as 3,000 a day for Aaron. Some wrote to congratulate him, but many others were appalled that a black man should break baseball's most sacred record. Death threats were a part of the mix.

Still, Aaron pushed forward. He didn't try to inflame the atmosphere, but he didn't keep his mouth shut either, speaking out against the league's lack of ownership and management opportunities for minorities. "On the field, blacks have been able to be super giants," he once stated. "But, once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again."

Legacy

In 1974, after tying the Babe on Opening Day in Cincinnati, Ohio, Aaron came home with his team. On April 8, he banged out his record 715th home run at 9:07 p.m. in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a triumph and a relief. The more than 50,000 fans on hand cheered him on as he rounded the bases. There were fireworks and a band, and when he crossed home plate, Aaron's parents were there to greet him.

Overall, Aaron finished the 1974 season with 20 home runs. He played two more years, moving back to Milwaukee to finish out his career to play in the same city where he'd started.

After retiring as a player, Aaron moved into the Atlanta Braves front office as executive vice-president, where he has been a leading spokesman for minority hiring in baseball. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1982. His autobiography, I Had a Hammer, was published in 1990.

In 1999, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of breaking Ruth's record, Major League Baseball announced the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best overall hitter in each league.

Hank Aaron was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002

Source: Biography.com

 

Singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist - Nina Simone
Category: Voices of Jazz
Tags: singer songwriter pianist arranger and civil rights activist nina simone word life production new quality entertainment

Born on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone received a scholarship to study classical piano at the Juilliard School in New York City, but left early when she ran out of money. She turned her interest to jazz, blues and folk music and released her first album in 1958. In the ‘60s, she became identified as the voice of the civil rights and wrote songs about the movement. She died in France on April 21, 2003.

Early Life

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone took to music at an early age, learning to play piano at the age of 4 and singing in her church's choir. The sixth of seven children, Simone grew up poor. Her music teacher helped establish a special fund to pay for Simone's education and, after finishing high school, Simone won a scholarship to New York City's famed Juilliard School of Music to train as a classical pianist.

Simone taught piano and worked as a accompanist for other performers while at Juilliard, but she eventually had to leave school after she ran out of funds. Moving to Philadelphia, Simone lived with her family there in order to save money and go to a more affordable music program. Her career took an unexpected turn, however, when she was rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; she later claimed the school denied her admittance because she was African-American. Turning away from classical music, she started playing American standards, jazz and blues in clubs in the 1950s. Before long, she also started singing along with her music at the behest of one bar owner. She took the stage name Nina Simone—"Nina" came from a nickname meaning "little one" and "Simone" after the actress Simone Signoret. She won over such fans as Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin.

Civil Rights Singer

Simone began recording her music in the late 1950s under the Bethlehem label, releasing her first full album in 1958, which featured "Plain Gold Ring" and "Little Girl Blue." It also included her one and only top 40 pop hit with her version of "I Loves You Porgy" from the George Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess.

In many ways, Simone's music defied standard definitions. Her classical training showed through, no matter what genre of song she played, and she drew from many sources including gospel, pop and folk. She was often called the "High Priestess of Soul," but she hated that nickname. She didn't like the label of "jazz singer", either. "If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing," she later wrote.

By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as the voice of the civil rights movement. She wrote "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls. After the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Simone penned "Why (The King of Love Is Dead)." She also wrote "Young, Gifted and Black," borrowing the title of a play by Hansberry, which became a popular anthem at the time.

Career Renaissance

 

As the 1960s drew to a close, Simone tired of the American music scene and the country's deeply divided racial politics. She lived in several different countries, including Liberia, Switzerland, England and Barbados before eventually settling down in the South of France. For years, Simone also struggled with her finances, and clashed with managers, record labels, and the Internal Revenue Service.

Around this time, Simone recorded cover songs of popular music, putting her own spin on such songs as Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." She also showed her sensual side with the song "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl." She then took a break from recording, returning in 1978 with the album Baltimore. The title track was a cover version of a Randy Newman song. Critics gave the album a warm reception, but it did not do well commercially.

Simone went through a career renaissance in the late 1980s when her song "My Baby Just Cares For Me" was used in a perfume commercial in the United Kingdom. The song became a Top 10 hit in Britain. She also penned her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, which was published in 1992. Her next recording, A Single Woman, came out in 1993. To support these works, Simone gave some performances in the United States.

Touring periodically, Simone maintained a strong fan base that filled concert halls whenever she performed. She appeared in New York City in 1998, her first trip there in five years. The New York Times critic Jon Paneles reviewed the concert, saying that "there is still power in her voice" and the show featured "a beloved sound, a celebrated personality, and a repertory that magnifies them both." That same year, Simone attended South African leader Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday celebration.

Legacy

In 1999, Simone performed at the Guinness Blues Festival in Dublin, Ireland. She was joined on stage by her daughter Lisa for a few songs. Lisa, from Simone's second marriage to manager Andrew Stroud, followed in her mother's footsteps. She has appeared on Broadway in Aida, using the stage name "Simone."

In her final years, Simone battled with health problems. Some reports indicate she was battling breast cancer, but that claim has not been officially confirmed. She died on April 21, 2003, at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France.

While she may be gone, Simone left a lasting impression on the world of music. She sang to share her truth, and her music still resonates with great emotion and power. Simone has inspired an array of performers, from Aretha Franklin to Joni Mitchell. Her deep, distinctive voice continues to be a popular choice for television and film soundtracks, from documentaries to comedies to dramas.

© 2014 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.

In honor of those we have lost, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tags: martin luther king jr celebrate life activist leader barack political word life production feature

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King, both a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist, had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. Among many efforts, King headed the SCLC. Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and other areas of the nation, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. King was assassinated in April 1968, and continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream."

Early Years

Born as Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was the middle child of Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. The King and Williams families were rooted in rural Georgia. Martin Jr.'s grandfather, A.D. Williams, was a rural minister for years and then moved to Atlanta in 1893. He took over the small, struggling Ebenezer Baptist church with around 13 members and made it into a forceful congregation. He married Jennie Celeste Parks and they had one child that survived, Alberta. Michael King Sr. came from a sharecropper family in a poor farming community. He married Alberta in 1926 after an eight-year courtship. The newlyweds moved to A.D. Williams home in Atlanta.

Michael King Sr. stepped in as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church upon the death of his father-in-law in 1931. He too became a successful minister, and adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr. in honor of the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther. In due time, Michael Jr. would follow his father's lead and adopt the name himself.

Young Martin had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. The King children grew up in a secure and loving environment. Martin Sr. was more the disciplinarian, while his wife's gentleness easily balanced out the father's more strict hand. Though they undoubtedly tried, Martin Jr.’s parents couldn’t shield him completely from racism. Martin Luther King Sr. fought against racial prejudice, not just because his race suffered, but because he considered racism and segregation to be an affront to God's will. He strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children which left a lasting impression on Martin Jr.

Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr. entered public school at age 5. In May, 1936 he was baptized, but the event made little impression on him. In May, 1941, Martin was 12 years old when is grandmother, Jennie, died of a heart attack. The event was traumatic for Martin, more so because he was out watching a parade against his parents' wishes when she died. Distraught at the news, young Martin jumped from a second story window at the family home, allegedly attempting suicide.

King attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he was said to be a precocious student.

He skipped both the ninth and eleventh grades, and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15, in 1944. He was a popular student, especially with his female classmates, but an unmotivated student who floated though his first two years. Although his family was deeply involved in the church and worship, young Martin questioned religion in general and felt uncomfortable with overly emotional displays of religious worship. This discomfort continued through much of his adolescence,

initially leading him to decide against entering the ministry, much to his father's dismay. But in his junior year, Martin took a Bible class, renewed his faith and began to envision a career in the ministry. In the fall of his senior year, he told his father of his decision.

Education and Spiritual Growth

In 1948, Martin Luther King Jr. earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College and attended the liberal Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He thrived in all his studies, and was valedictorian of his class in 1951, and elected student body president. He also earned a fellowship for graduate study. But Martin also rebelled against his father’s more conservative influence by drinking beer and playing pool while at college. He became involved with a white woman and went through a difficult time before he could break off the affair.

During his last year in seminary, Martin Luther King Jr. came under the influence of theologian Reinhold Niebbuhr, a classmate of his father's at Morehouse College. Niebbuhr became a mentor to Martin, challenging his liberal views of theology. Niebuhr was probably the single most important influence in Martin's intellectual and spiritual development. After being accepted at several colleges for his doctoral study including Yale and Edinburgh in Scotland, King enrolled in Boston University.

During the work on this doctorate, Martin Luther King Jr. met Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer and musician, at the New England Conservatory school in Boston. They were married in June 1953 and had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice. In 1954, while still working on his dissertation, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He completed his Ph.D. and was award his degree in 1955. King was only 25 years old.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

On March 2, 1955, a 15-year-old girl refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus in violation of local law. Claudette Colvin was arrested and taken to jail. At first, the local chapter of the NAACP felt they had an excellent test case to challenge Montgomery's segregated bus policy. But then it was revealed that she was pregnant and civil rights leaders feared this would scandalize the deeply religious black community and make Colvin (and, thus the group's efforts) less credible in the eyes of sympathetic whites.

On December 1, 1955, they got another chance to make their case. That evening, 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus to go home from an exhausting day at work.

She sat in the first row of the "colored" section in the middle of the bus. As the bus traveled its route, all the seats it the white section filled up, then several more white passengers boarded the bus. The bus driver noted that there were several white men standing and demanded that Parks and several other African Americans give up their seats. Three other African American passengers reluctantly gave up their places, but Parks remained seated. The driver asked her again to give up her seat and again she refused. Parks was arrested and booked for violating the Montgomery City Code. At her trial a week later, in a 30-minute hearing, Parks was found guilty and fined $10 and assessed $4 court fee.

On the night that Rosa Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP chapter met with Martin Luther King Jr. and other local civil rights leaders to plan a citywide bus boycott. King was elected to lead the boycott because he was young, well-trained with solid family connections and had professional standing. But he was also new to the community and had few enemies, so it was felt he would have strong credibility with the black community.

In his first speech as the group's president, King declared, "We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s fresh and skillful rhetoric put a new energy into the civil rights struggle in Alabama. The bus boycott would be 382 days of walking to work, harassment, violence and intimidation for the Montgomery's African-American community. Both King's and E.D. Nixon's homes were attacked. But the African-American community also took legal action against the city ordinance arguing that it was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's "separate is never equal" decision in Brown v. Board of Education. After being defeated in several lower court rulings and suffering large financial losses, the city of Montgomery lifted the law mandating segregated public transportation.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Flush with victory, African-American civil rights leaders recognized the need for a national organization to help coordinate their efforts. In January 1957, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and 60 ministers and civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches. They would help conduct non-violent protests to promote civil rights reform. King's participation in the organization gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform. The organization felt the best place to start to give African Americans a voice was to enfranchise them in the voting process. In February 1958, the SCLC sponsored more than 20 mass meetings in key southern cities to register black voters in the South.

King met with religious and civil rights leaders and lectured all over the country on race-related issues.

 

In 1959, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, and inspired by Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, Martin Luther King visited Gandhi's birthplace in India. The trip affected him in a deeply profound way, increasing his commitment to America's civil rights struggle. African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who had studied Gandhi's teachings, became one of King's associates and counseled him to dedicate himself to the principles of non-violence. Rustin served as King's mentor and advisor throughout his early activism and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. But Rustin was also a controversial figure at the time, being a homosexual with alleged ties to the Communist Party, USA. Though his counsel was invaluable to King, many of his other supporters urged him to distance himself from Rustin.

In February 1960, a group of African-American students began what became known as the "sit-in" movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. The students would sit at racially segregated lunch counters in the city's stores. When asked to leave or sit in the colored section, they just remained seated, subjecting themselves to verbal and sometimes physical abuse. The movement quickly gained traction in several other cities. In April 1960, the SCLC held a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina with local sit-in leaders. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged students to continue to use nonviolent methods during their protests. Out of this meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee formed and for a time, worked closely with the SCLC. By August of 1960, the sit-ins had been successful in ending segregation at lunch counters in 27 southern cities.

By 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. was gaining national notoriety. He returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but also continued his civil rights efforts. On October 19, 1960, King and 75 students entered a local department store and requested lunch-counter service but were denied. When they refused to leave the counter area, King and 36 others were arrested. Realizing the incident would hurt the city's reputation, Atlanta's mayor negotiated a truce and charges were eventually dropped. But soon after, King was imprisoned for violating his probation on a traffic conviction. The news of his imprisonment entered the 1960 presidential campaign, when candidate John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Kennedy expressed his concern for King's harsh treatment for the traffic ticket and political pressure was quickly set in motion. King was soon released.

'I Have a Dream'

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Entire families attended. City police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators. Martin Luther King was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, but the event drew nationwide attention.

However, King was personally criticized by black and white clergy alike for taking risks and endangering the children who attended the demonstration. From the jail in Birmingham, King eloquently spelled out his theory of non-violence: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue."

By the end of the Birmingham campaign, Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters were making plans for a massive demonstration on the nation's capital composed of multiple organizations, all asking for peaceful change. On August 28, 1963, the historic March on Washington drew more than 200,000 people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, emphasizing his belief that someday all men could be brothers.

 

The rising tide of civil rights agitation produced a strong effect on public opinion. Many people in cities not experiencing racial tension began to question the nation's Jim Crow laws and the near century second class treatment of African-American citizens. This resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorizing the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawing discrimination in publicly owned facilities. This also led to Martin Luther King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964.

King's struggle continued throughout the 1960s. Often, it seemed as though the pattern of progress was two steps forward and one step back. On March 7, 1965, a civil rights march, planned from Selma to Alabama's capital in Montgomery, turned violent as police with nightsticks and tear gas met the demonstrators as they tried to cross the Edmond Pettus Bridge. King was not in the march, however the attack was televised showing horrifying images of marchers being bloodied and severely injured. Seventeen demonstrators were hospitalized leading to the naming the event "Bloody Sunday." A second march was cancelled due to a restraining order to prevent the march from taking place. A third march was planned and this time King made sure he was on it. Not wanting to alienate southern judges by violating the restraining order, a different tact was taken. On March 9, 1965, a procession of 2,500 marchers, both black and white, set out once again to cross the Pettus Bridge and confronted barricades and state troopers. Instead of forcing a confrontation, King led his followers to kneel in prayer and they then turned back. The event caused King the loss of support among some younger African-American leaders, but it nonetheless aroused support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

From late 1965 through 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. expanded his Civil Rights Movement into other larger American cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. But he met with increasing criticism and public challenges from young black-power leaders. King's patient, non-violent approach and appeal to white middle-class citizens alienated many black militants who considered his methods too weak and too late.

In the eyes of the sharp-tongued, blue jean young urban black, King's manner was irresponsibly passive and deemed non-effective. To address this criticism King began making a link between discrimination and poverty. He expanded his civil rights efforts to the Vietnam War. He felt that America's involvement in Vietnam was politically untenable and the government's conduct of the war discriminatory to the poor. He sought to broaden his base by forming a multi-race coalition to address economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people.

Assassination and Legacy

By 1968, the years of demonstrations and confrontations were beginning to wear on Martin Luther King Jr. He had grown tired of marches, going to jail, and living under the constant threat of death. He was becoming discouraged at the slow progress civil rights in America and the increasing criticism from other African-American leaders. Plans were in the works for another march on Washington to revive his movement and bring attention to a widening range of issues. In the spring of 1968, a labor strike by Memphis sanitation workers drew King to one last crusade. On April 3, in what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, he told supporters, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land." The next day, while standing on a balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr. was struck by a sniper's bullet. The shooter, a malcontent drifter and former convict named James Earl Ray, was eventually apprehended after a two-month, international manhunt. The killing sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison on April 23, 1998.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African-American leader of his era. His life and work have been honored with a national holiday, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington, D.C. But his life remains controversial as well. In the 1970s, FBI files, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that he was under government surveillance, and suggested his involvement in adulterous relationships and communist influences. Over the years, extensive archival studies have led to a more balanced and comprehensive assessment of his life, portraying him as a complex figure: flawed, fallible and limited in his control over the mass movements with which he was associated, yet a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.

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Chaka Khan: Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Activist Tags: chaka khan singer songwriter actor activist word life production feature blog

Chaka Khan is one of the world's most gifted and celebrated musicians, with a rich musical legacy, the 10-time GRAMMY? Award-winner is looking forward to a celebration of a lifetime. A songwriter, actor, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur and activist, Chaka Khan has influenced generations of recording artists. She has the rare ability to sing in seven music genres, including R&B, pop, rock, gospel, country, world music and classical. Affectionately known around the world as Chaka, she is revered by millions of fans as well as her peers for hertimeless, classic and unmatched signature music style and ability. The late, great Miles Davis often said, "She [Chaka] sings like my horn." And the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin says, "[Chaka] is a one- of- a -kind, premier vocalist."

Throughout her legendary career, Chaka has released 22 albums and racked up ten #1 Billboard magazine charted songs, seven RIAA certified gold singles and ten RIAA certified gold and platinum albums. Chaka's recorded music has produced over 2,000 catalogue song placements. "I am honored and blessed to celebrate 40 years in music and entertainment" says Chaka. "I am so humbled by the love, support and gracious spirit of my fans worldwide and the continuous support my peers have shown over the years. Throughout my 40-year career, I have been through the fire a few times over and I'm still here as a living testament to God's love and grace. Next year, I will be celebrating 40 years in the business and 60 years on earth, which equals one hundred percent Chaka."

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Early on, she caught the attention of music icon Stevie Wonder, who penned her first smash hit with Rufus, "Tell Me Something Good." The single from the group's 1974 platinum-selling album, Rags to Rufus, earned Chaka her first GRAMMY? Award. With Chaka as the group's dynamic center, Rufus became one of the most popular acts around selling out shows throughout the country and dominating the airwaves with hit after hit with songs such as "You Got the Love," which Chaka co-wrote, "Once You Get Started," "Sweet Thing," "Everlasting Love," "Do You Love What You Feel?" and "Ain't Nobody," Chaka's second GRAMMY Award-winning song with Rufus. Rufus and Chaka Khan racked up five RIAA certified gold and platinum albums during their time together.

It was inevitable that a singer with Chaka's star power would eventually venture out on her own. In 1978, Chaka blazed onto the music scene as a solo artist with the release of the smash hit "I'm Every Woman" written byAshford & Simpson. Paired with the late producer extraordinaire, Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler), her catalog grew even more impressive with hits such as "Clouds," "Papillon," and "What 'Cha Gonna Do For Me?" It was during this time that Chaka began pursuing her love of jazz. She and Arif brilliantly re-worked the classic song "Night in Tunisia" with the song's originator, Dizzy Gillespie, on trumpet. Chaka also recorded an album of jazz standards titled Echoes of an Era, which featured such luminaries as Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. Her crowning achievement in jazz was the GRAMMY? Award-winning tune, "Be Bop Medley." The song's album, titled Chaka Khan, also won a GRAMMY? for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

However, the song that made Chaka Khan a household name and propelled her to superstardom the world over was "I Feel For You," written and first performed by Prince. This chart-topping, GRAMMY? Award-winning song also made music history. Released in 1984, it was the first R&B song to feature a rap, which was performed by Grandmaster Melle Mel. Chaka also topped the charts with "This Is My Night" and the instant classic, "Through The Fire." Now in top demand, Chaka lent her voice and producer skills to two of the biggest hits of 1986, Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" and Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." Both were GRAMMY?-winning songs.

In 1995, she made her musical theater debut on London's West End, where she starred in Mama I Want to Sing. In 2002 she traveled to Las Vegas, where she starred in Signed, Sealed Delivered, a critically-acclaimed musical based on the music of Stevie Wonder. Her Broadway debut came in 2008, when she took over the role of Sofia in Oprah Winfrey's musical The Color Purple.

Chaka's emotive vocals can also be heard on a number of soundtracks, including Clockers, Set It Off, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, Miami Vice, White Knights, Moscow on the Hudson, Disappearing Acts, Waiting to Exhale and Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, as well as Tyler Perry hits Madea's Family Reunion and Meet The Browns.

During her career, she has collaborated with a long list of artists in diverse genres. Collaborators have included Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Steve Winwood, Mary J. Blige, George Benson, Larry Graham, the London Symphony Orchestra and countless others. Chaka has received a steady stream of accolades for both her artistry and philanthropy. In June, 2012, she was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, joining previously inducted music greats such as Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, George Harrison, B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Donna Summer and Kathleen Battle. In 2011, she was honored for her legendary career with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During the same year, Chaka was honored with the United Negro College Fund's An Evening of Stars Tribute. The program, which was televised on cable networks and broadcast stations in more than 40 cities nationwide, featured tribute performances by Stevie Wonder, Fantasia, Ledisi, El Debarge, Faith Evans, Angie Stone, Ginuwine, Chaka's brother, Mark Stevens, and her daughter, Indira Khan, among others. In recent years, Chaka also received the Soul Train Legend Award (2009), the BET Lifetime Achievement Award (2006), the GRAMMY? Honors Award from the NARAS Chicago Chapter (2006) and the World Music Award Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). In 2004, Chaka received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. Chaka's autobiography, Through the Fire, was published by Rodale Books in 2003 and is currently being adapted into a screenplay.

Despite her busy schedule, Chaka has always made time to support and uplift her community. She has a deep commitment to women and children at risk, which led her to establish the Chaka Khan Foundation in 1999. Initially, the foundation focused primarily on public awareness campaigns around the diagnosis, intervention, and available family resources and the search for a cure for autism. Her efforts were particularly aimed at communities of color and other underserved communities, where awareness about this disorder is low. Her work in this area was inspired by her nephew who has autism and who Chaka describes as "gifted and beautiful and so full of life." She later expanded the mission of the foundation to focus more broadly on women and children at risk. In July 2012, Chaka received the McDonald Corporation's 365Black Award, honoring her for her leadership of the Chaka Khan Foundation.

Chaka also is an entrepreneur. In 2004, her line of gourmet chocolates, Chakalates, was sold in 20 Neiman Marcus stores around the country. Plans are underway to re-launch her signature brand of chocolates nationally and internationally. She currently is introducing Khana Sutra, a fragrance line for men, women and the home. The line also includes candles, and room and linen sprays. With a new svelte look, a new album, and a great enthusiasm for her new and expanding activities in music, philanthropy and entrepreneurial ventures, the 10-time GRAMMY? Award-winner is looking forward to a celebration of a lifetime.

Source: Official Website

Harry Belafonte is a multi-talented performer and true humanitarian
Category: Black Men Rock!
Tags: harry belagonte social activist black men rock feature blog word life production

Harry Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927, in New York City. As a youth, he struggled with poverty and a turbulent family life. Belafonte's career took off with the film Carmen Jones (1954). Soon after, he had several hits—"The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" and "Jamaica Farewell." In addition to his acting and singing career, Belafonte worked as a champion for many social and political Art.

There's nothing more powerful in the universe than it, because it is the recorder of the truth.

– Harry Belafonte

Early Years

The oldest son of Caribbean immigrants, Harry Belafonte spent his early years in New York City. His mother worked as a dressmaker and a house cleaner, and his father served as a cook in the British Royal Navy. As a young child, Belafonte's parents divorced. The boy was sent to Jamaica, his mother's native country, to live with relatives. There, he saw firsthand the oppression of blacks by the English authorities, which left a lasting impression on him.

Belafonte returned to New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 1939 to live with his mother. They struggled in poverty, and Belafonte was often cared for by others while his mother worked. "The most difficult time in my life was when I was a kid," he later told People magazine. "My mother gave me affection, but, because I was left on my own, also a lot of anguish."

Career Beginnings

Dropping out of high school, Belafonte enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. He served in the Pacific during the end of World War II. After being discharged from the service, Belafonte returned to New York City. He seemed directionless for a time, working a series of odd jobs. But Belafonte soon found his career inspiration after attending a performance of the American Negro Theater.

So moved by the performance, Belafonte decided that he wanted to become an actor. He studied drama at the Dramatic Workshop run by Erwin Piscator. His classmates included Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Rod Steiger. Belafonte appeared in numerous American Negro Theater productions, but he caught his first big break, singing for a class project. He impressed Monte Kay, who offered Belafonte the opportunity to perform at a jazz club called the Royal Roost. Backed by such talented musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Belafonte became a popular act at the club. In 1949, he landed his first recording deal.

First Successes

By 1950, Belafonte had switched his musical style, dropping popular music from his repertoire in favor of folk. He became an avid student of traditional folk songs from around the world, and started appearing in such New York City folk clubs as the Village Vanguard.

Debuting on Broadway in 1953, Belafonte won a Tony Award for his performance in John Murray Anderson's Almanac, in which he performed several of his own songs. He also appeared in another well-received musical revue, 3 for Tonight, in 1955.

Around this time, Belafonte launched his film career. He played a school principal opposite Dorothy Dandridge in his first movie, Bright Road (1953). The pair reunited the following year for Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, a film adaptation of the Broadway musical.

Oscar Hammerstein II had written the musical as a contemporary, African-American version of the opera Carmen, by Georges Bizet. Belafonte received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Joe, a soldier who falls for the title character, played by Dandridge.The success of Carmen Jones made Belafonte a star, and soon he became a music sensation. After signing with RCA Victor Records, he released Calypso (1956), an album featuring his take on traditional Caribbean folk music. "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" proved to be proved a huge hit. More than just a popular tune, it also had a special meaning for Belafonte. "That song is a way of life," Belafonte later told The New York Times. "It's a song about my father, my mother, my uncles, the men and women who toil in the banana fields, the cane fields of Jamaica."

Calypso introduced America to a new genre of music, and became the first album to sell more than one million copies. Belafonte also worked with other folk artists, including Bob Dylan and the legendary Odetta. The pair sang their version of the traditional children's song "There's a Hole in My Bucket." In 1961, Belafonte had another big hit with "Jump in the Line."

Belafonte proved to be a ground-breaker in another realm as well: He became the first African-American television producer, working on numerous musical shows. In the early 1970s, Belafonte teamed up with singer Lena Horne for a one-hour special.

Later Career

By the mid-1970s, Belafonte was no longer hitting the charts. On the big screen, Belafonte had some success with his collaborations with longtime friend Sidney Poitier, including 1972's Buck and the Preacher and 1974's Uptown Saturday Night. But despite this success, Belafonte decided to take a break from movie-making. He made numerous television appearances in the 1970s and 1980s, including a guest spot on The Muppet Show, on which he sang several of his most popular songs. Belafonte also worked with Marlo Thomas on the 1974 children's special Free To Be ... You and Me.

In the 1990s, Belafonte returned to the big screen with two films. He starred with John Travolta in White Man's Burden (1995), which was a commercial and critical disappointment. The following year, Belafonte played against type as a heartless gangster in Robert Altman's Kansas City. He also appeared in 2006's Bobby, a film about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Social Activism

Always outspoken, Belafonte found inspiration for his activism from such figures as singer Paul Robeson; writer and activist W. E. B. Du Bois; and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 1950s, Belafonte met civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The pair became good friends, and Belafonte emerged as a strong voice for the civil rights movement. He provided financial backing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council and participated in numerous rallies and protests. Belafonte was with King when the civil rights leader gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., and visited with him days before King was assassinated in 1968.

In the 1980s, Belafonte led an effort to help people in Africa. He came up the idea of recording a song with other celebrities, which would be sold to raise funds to provide famine relief in Ethiopia. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, "We Are the World" featured vocals by such music greats as Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen and Smokey Robinson. The song was released in 1985, raising millions of dollars and becoming an international hit.

Over the years, Belafonte has supported for many other causes as well. In addition to his role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, the performer has campaigned to end the practice of apartheid in South Africa, and has spoken out against U.S. military actions in Iraq.

Belafonte has sometimes landed in hot water for his candidly expressed opinions. In 2006, he made headlines when he referred to President George W. Bush as "the greatest terrorist in the world" for launching the war in Iraq. He also insulted African-American members of the Bush administration General Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, referring to them as "house slaves." Despite media pressure, he steadfastly refused to apologize for his remarks. In regards to Powell and Rice, Belafonte said "you are serving those who continue to design our oppression."

Personal Life

Belafonte lives in New York City with his third wife Pamela Frank. The couple wed in April 2008. Belafonte has two children with second wife, dancer Julie Robinson, to whom he was married for nearly 50 years. He also has two other children from his first marriage to Marguerite Byrd.

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