9 Contributions of African Americans in The Arts

Just in time to celebrate Black History Month.

Feb 1, 2020

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February marks Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of people of African descent in the US and Canada. From the Harlem Renaissance and the jazz musicians to 21st-century feminism, this month we acknowledge black history makers and their contributions to the arts. Here are nine but there are so many more.

Diana Ross - Singer and Actress

Before Beyonce and Rihanna, Diana Ross paved the way for black singers. She rose to fame as the lead singer of the vocal group, the Supremes, Motown’s most successful act during the 1960s and one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. Their hits have become timeless classics and include “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, andYou Can't Hurry Love.

Stevie Wonder - Singer, Songwriter, Musician, and Record Producer

Blind since shortly after his birth, Stevie wonder was one of the most successful songwriters and musicians in a wide variety of music genres including pop,rock, soul, and rhythm and blues. A child prodigy, he signed  with Motown’s record label when he was 11 and had his first number-one hit “Fingers” at 13. Wonder has sold over 100 million records worldwide, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also been an activist and campaigned to make Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a national holiday.

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Elaine Welteroth - Author, Journalist, and the First African-American Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue

Her Instagram reminds us, “Don’t be eye candy, be soul food”, and she has certainly lived up to that. On April 29, 2017, Elaine Welteroth became editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, making her the first person of African American heritage to serve in the role. In 2019, at age 32,  she published the New York Times best-seller More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say).

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Painter

In the late 70s, the tag SAMO started to appear throughout New York City along with phrases like “Playing Art with Daddy’s Money,” “9 to 5 Clone,” and “Plush Safe…He Think”. These cryptic messages were left by American painter, Jean Michel Basquiat. Drawing influences from his Haitian and Puerto Rican background Basquiat elevated graffiti-style artwork, tackling issues ranging from politics to pop culture. Purchased by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa at Sotheby's for $110.5 million, his work, Untitled (1982), set the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for an American artist's work.

 
 
 
 
 
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Zadie Smith - Novelist, Essayist, and Short Story Writer

Known for her snappy wit, novelist Zadie Smith takes a brutally honest look at life, family, race, and social class through her work. She began writing her debut novel, White Teeth, at age 21 while studying at the University of Cambridge. Time Magazine included the book in its list of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Her other works include The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time. Zadie Smith currently lives between London and New York City.

 
 
 
 
 
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Always be inspired to do what you love ❤️ and tell each story with your ink ????#zadiesmith #zadie_smith #swingtime #grandunion

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Augusta Savage - Sculptor and Civil Rights Activist

Augusta Savage rose to fame during the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual and artistic explosion in New York City during the 1920s. She received formal art training at the Cooper Union School, where she completed two years’ worth of study in just six weeks! She went on to create famous sculptures including portraits of W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. Savage unveiled The Harp at the 1939 World's Fair, a depiction of twelve black singers symbolized as strings of a harp, now on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington DC.

Viola Davis - First Black Actor/Actress to win the Triple Crown of Acting

The talented Viola Davis made history in 2017 when she became the first black actor or actress to win an Oscar, Emmy, and a Tony for her supporting role in Fences. That monumental night, when reporters backstage asked Davis what she loves about being a black woman. Davis replied, “Everything.” She has also starred in movies including: The Help, Suicide Squad, Widows, and Eat Pray Love.

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Nina Simone - Singer, Songwriter, and Civil Rights Activist

You probably know of Nina Simone from her booming, distinctive voice through songs like “Feeling Good” or “I Put a Spell on You”. “Miss Simone”, as Maya Angelou referred to her, was a classical pianist who rose to fame as a singer-songwriter. Her music spanned a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. At Carnegie Hall in 1964, she spoke out in sadness and outrage about black-white inequality during the Civil Rights movement performing songs like Mississippi Goddam

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Berry Gordy Jr - Songwriter, Film Producer, and Founder of Motown Records

In 1959, Berry Gordy took out a loan for $800 to purchase a small, two-story house in Detroit. The car-factory worker turned his home into a recording studio called, then called Hitsville USA. He went on to build one of the most successful labels in history, Motown Records, responsible for producing hit artists of the 60s and 70s like Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. Between 1961 to 1971, Motown Records had 110 top 10 hits!

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ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.