BLACK HISTORY MONTH

To celebrate and honor Black History Month, PTVI would like to highlight African American figures that have made in impact in technology and the arts.

Juanita Hall, Actress
By Amalia Phend, PTVI Contributor 

American actress Juanita Hall was born in 1901 in New Jersey, singing in her church choir growing up. She would move on to study at The Juilliard School, a school specifically designed for the performing arts.  

Hall’s Broadway debut was in Marc Connelly’s The Green Pastures, for which she was both a soloist and chorister.  
 
She would then move back to Broadway for the 1934 revival of Stevedore. Over the next few years, she would star in Sailor, Beware! (1935), Sweet River (1936), The Pirate (1942), Sing Out, Sweet Land (1943), and The Secret Room (1945), among many others.  
 
However, Hall is most known for her work in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific in 1949. She played the role of Bloody Mary, which would become her most recognizable role.  

South Pacific won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950, and won every category they were nominated for in the Tony Awards. This included Best Musical, Best Producer, and Best Performance by a Featured Actor - and Actress - in a Musical.  

Hall won for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, making her the first black performer to ever win a Tony Award.  
 

In 1958, Hall would reprise her role as Bloody Mary in the film version of South Pacific, however her singing voice would be dubbed over by Curtis Institute of Music graduate Muriel Smith.  
 

Hall would go on to perform in many other shows – such as Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song (1958) - but would be most known for her work in South Pacific, which won her her Tony and opened the door for black performers everywhere.  

Madam C.J. Walker, entrepreneur

By Halle Chinnery, PTVI Contributor 

Madam C.J. Walker was the woman who had it all the fame, the looks, the money, and most importantly the hair. She was known for her reputation and love of the black press.  She has inspired many other black female entrepreneurs with financial status, knowledge of business, and philanthropy. Madam C.J. Walker was the first black woman to become a self-made millionaire. Walker earned her millions when she began creating hair care and beauty productions. 

 

Sarah Breedlove, who would later become Madam C.J. Walker, was born on December 23, 1867, in Louisiana to Sharecroppers Owen and Minerva. Walker was the first child to be born free after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though Walker was born free she faced many struggles in her early life. At age six, Walker’s parents passed away and left her to live with her older sister and brother-in-law. While living with her sister, Walker was mistreated at the hands of her brother-in-law. At the age of fourteen, she was married and had a child, but six years later her husband passed leaving her widower.

 

After the death of her husband, Walker moved to St. Louis and juggled going to night school and working as a laundress. While in St. Louis, Walker began becoming involved in the National Association of Colored Woman and the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal church choir. In 1906, Walker fell in love with Charles J. Walker, and the two quickly wed, but as her business grew her marriage was put to the test.

Walkers' biggest success came from her struggles with a scalp disorder, which caused Walker to begin losing her hair. Due to the loss of hair, Walker began experimenting with home and store-bought remedies to bring her hair. After figuring out her concoction and treatment Sarah was able to improve the condition of her scalp. Walker thought that if her products could improve her scalp, they could improve other women's scalps, and she began selling her products to her fellow black woman.

 

In 1905 Walker’s hair care miracle was discovered by Annie Tuenbo Malone, a black hair product entrepreneur, who hired her as a commission agent. After being hired as a commission agent Walker decided to move to Denver, Colorado to market, sell, and advertise her products which were having growing success. Walker then went on to open beauty schools, production factories, business headquarters, becoming a member of the Harlem Renaissance, and donations to educational and black charities. Even today Walker's products are still recognized and loved and you can find a plethora of them at your local Sephora.

Melba Roy Mouton: Black Woman in Computing

By Sarah Velez-Osorio, PTVI Contributor

  A Head Computer Programmer, a Program Production Section Chief at Goddard Space Flight Center and an Assistant Chief of Research Programs at Nasa, Melba Roy Mouton was one of the most historically influential people in Nasa and African American History. Mouton was part of a group of incredibly intelligent African American women who are credited for calculations that let Neil Armstrong and other men go into space. 

Mouton was the head of the group of mathematicians called, “computers'' because they were just as fast and accurate at calculating as a computer machine.

Mouton started as a mathematician and worked her way up as the head mathematician for Satellites 1 and 2. She became Head Computer Programmer and Production Section Chief at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the 1960’s. This opportunity allowed her to help millions see the satellites from Earth as it would pass overhead by creating the orbital element timetables.

   Mouton attended Howard University where she graduated in 1950 with a master’s in mathematics and a bachelor’s degree with a minor in physics. Mouton participated in important groups at Howard where she was President of Chapter of Future Teachers of American and a part of the NAACP. Mouton’s career in NASA began in 1959 where she began by being an Assistant chief of Research Programs. Roy’s success in the industry helped the United States during the space race, and inspired millions of American women in STEM. 

Alvin Ailey, choreographer

By Danielle Chiwara, PTVI Contributor

   Alvin Ailey (1931-89)  is an iconic Black choreographer and owner of his own dance company. He is revolutionary as an African-American owner of one of the most successful dance companies in the world.

   Ailey serves as a role model and paved the way for many young artists. In these artists is Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer in the prestigious American Ballet Theater.

 

   The importance of diversity in media has been shown throughout history. In the past years, we have seen a massive increase in the types of people found in television shows, books, movies. People have a newfound pride in who they are, their race, and ethnicities

   One of his most famous pieces (and my personal favorite) is Revelations. Revelations is a tale of Black life. It features depictions of the first Black people, negro spirituals, and an emulation of the Black church experience. 

   My personal favorite sections from Revelations is Wade in The Water and Sinner Man. They are both songs sung by enslaved Black people to make community with each other through hard times. Depictions of Black life that aren’t solely about struggle are very important to have. It shows that there’s more to being Black than just pain.

Louis Armstrong, musician 

By Kate Marsenison, PTVI contributor 

Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was raised in poverty in a rough neighborhood. While in town performing an odd job, he heard for the first time a jazz band and was instantly inspired. He joined a quartet of boys at the age of 11, where he sang in the streets for money. After getting a hold of a gun and firing it into the air, Armstrong was arrested and sent to the Colored Waif’s Home.

   In the home, he joined the band, where he learned to play the cornet and was eventually promoted to bandleader. Once he was released from the Colored Waif’s Home, he sought work as a musician.

    With an invitation to join King Oliver’s Jazz Band, Armstrong moved to Chicago in 1922. With him in the band, it became one of the most influential jazz bands in Chicago. He released his first recording with the band in 1923. He shortly after parted with the band.

For his exceptional cornet playing, Armstrong received an invitation to join the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in New York City. He switched his instrument to trumpet in order to “blend in more” with the band. 

   In 1925, Armstrong moved back to Chicago at the advice of friend Lil Hardin Armstrong, who pegged him as the “World’s Greatest Trumpet Player.” At this, he was able to form “Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five,” where they produced over 20 records. 

Armstrong parted with the band and emerged as a solo artist. As he gained recognition, he became known as an “inventive trumpet player” and was recognized for his unique singing voice. 

   

    Armstrong had a huge impact on the Harlem Renaissance and is considered one of the pioneers of jazz music. He even won a Grammy Award in 1964 for best Male Vocal Performance. Armstrong died in July of 1971 of a heart attack in his home in New York City.