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Pioneers in The Arts and Entertainment

As with all people, artistic expression is an innate characteristic of African people and people of African descent wherever they are in the world. This is especially so in North America. The arts are intellectually stimulating and  uplifting to the spirit. While raising social awareness, African American artists have been a source of entertainment. Thus, the arts and entertainment are entwined. The monuments on this page of the site memorialize the lives of several African Americans, who have excelled in this aspect of human activity. They are musical composers, singers, instrumentalists, writers, and poets and activists. Needless to say, the monuments pictured on this page do not represent the full range of artistic endeavor or entertainment found among African Americans. However, because of their often-unique contributions, they have been memorialized with a public monument.   

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Phyllis Wheatley

Born in West Africa, sold into enslavement in North America, Phyllis Wheatley is understood to be the first African American author of a published book of poetry.

Boston Women's Memorial
Boston, MA
Laney Lloyd, Photographer

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Louis Armstrong "Satchmo"
Louis Armstrong is credited as a foundational figure in the development of Jazz as a art form, introducing solo improvisational performance.  

New Orleans, LA
Photograph by Makeda Black

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Edward Kennedy
"Duke" Ellington

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was a pianist composer, and big band leader. He wrote over 1,000 compositions, many of them are Jazz standards. His career as leader of the Duke Ellington Orchestra spanned over half a century. He was an international ambassador for what he called, "American music."

New York, NY

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Bill Robinson "Bojangles"

Dancer, Actor, Philanthropist

Richmond, VA 

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Ella Fitzgerald

Known to the world as the "First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was a top jazz vocalist, who sang with great big bands starting with Chic Web when she was in her teens. Read more about her long and stellar career and listen to her sing at the site listed in Read More, below.

Ella Fitzgerald Monument
Yonkers, NY

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Known as one of the great innovators in Jazz, Charlie Parker along with Dizzie Gillespie is credited with the creation of the Jazz form know as Bebop. 

Charlie Parker, "Bird"

Kansas City, MO

While playing with the Jay McShann Band in 1940, Charlie Parker earned his famous nickname "Bird," short for "Yardbird." As the story goes, Parker was given the nickname for one of two possible reasons: 1) He was free as a bird, or 2) he accidentally hit a chicken, otherwise known as a yard bird, while driving on tour with the band.

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Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, "Lady Day" remains as one of the most influential Jazz, Blues and Swing vocalist of all times. Her rendition of the song, " Strange Fruit,'" by Abel Meeropol, catapulted her to stardom in the late 1930's. 

Baltimore, MD
Photograph by Michael Black

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Paul Robeson

Washington, DC

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Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was a true renaissance man, who we could have featured on several pages on this site. He was an orator, an athlete, a leading figure in the struggle for justice and equality . He was also a singer, and actor. Because of his outstanding career in the arts, we have chosen to include him here, 

A Tribute to Paul Robeson by the sculptor, Alan Uzekee Nelson

Nina Simone

Nina Simone, often referred to as "The High Priestess of Soul," began her artistic career with the goal of being a pioneering African American Classical pianist. However, she found her greatest success as a Jazz, Blues and Folk singer, instrumentalist and composer. 

Tryon, NC

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Nina Simone

Widely known for her commitment to the struggle for racial justice and women's equality, her virtuoso piano style, her vast catalogue of musical compositions and her convey deep levels of emotion, Nina Simone attracted a global following. 

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Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a prominent literary voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Best known for his poetry, he was also a playwright, novelist, and columnist.

Langston Hughes ashes were interred beneath this cosmogram medallion located in the Schomburg  Research Center for Research in Black Culture,
New York, NY

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Dizzy Gillespie

Stellar Jazz trumpeter, born in South Carolina, is memorialized at the African American History Monument in Columbia South Carolina. Along with Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie is credited with the creation of the Jazz idiom known as Bebop. 

Columbia, SC

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Alex Haley

Alex Haley, Co author of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," came to national prominence after the publication of his groundbreaking book and TV series, "Roots," which also sparked national interest in genealogy. 

Knoxville, TN
Photograph by Rick Cowles.

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Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry is credited for laying the groundwork for the sound of Rock and Roll. He is among the first inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

St. Louis, MO

Photo by Devoree Crist

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