Lena Horne (1917 – 2010) Singer, Dancer, Actress, and Civil Rights Activist

“You have to be taught to be second class, you’re not born that way,” a profound statement by the ultra-talented singer, actress, activist Lena Horne. Lena Horne is known as one of the most famous black entertainers of the twentieth century, who broke new ground for black performers when she signed a long-term contract with MGM (a major Hollywood studio) and who went on to achieve international fame as a singer. Her stunning beauty, innate elegance, and stellar stage charisma made her a worldwide superstar, having performed in concert halls, on television, in movies, nightclubs and on the radio. She became one of the first African Americans to cross the music-business color divide, sharing stages with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine, and many other legends of American music during her long and varied career.

Lena Horne was also known for her work with civil rights groups and refused to play roles that stereotyped African American women. As an anti-racist activist, she refused to appear before racially segregated US Army audiences in World War II, while touring Army camps for the U.S.O. Lena was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. Her progressive political beliefs, led her to be blacklisted in the 1950s. Nearly 30 years later, her career re-emerged as she appeared in “The Wiz” (1978) and conquered Broadway with a one-woman show, “The Lady and Her Music” in 1981. In 2010, Lena Horne passed away on Mothers Day at the age of 92.

Birthdate: June 30, 1917

Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York

Death: May 9, 2010

Place of Death: Manhattan, New York


  • Panama Hattie (1942, film)
  • Cabin in the Sky  (1943, film)
  • Stormy Weather (1943, film)
  • Broadway Rhythm (1944, film)
  • Words and Music (1948, film)
  • The Wiz (1978, film)
  • “Stormy Weather” (1943, song)
  • “One For My Baby, and One More For The Road” (1945, song)
  • “Deed I Do” (1948, song)
  • “Love Me Or Leave Me” (1955, song)
  • Moanin’ Low (1942, album)
  • Classics in Blue (1947, album)
  • Lena Horne Sings (1953, album)
  • It’s Love (1955, album)
  • Jamaica (1957, album)
  • Stormy Weather (1957, album)
  • I Feel So Smoochie (1958, album)


3 Grammy Awards and 5 Nominations

2 Emmy Awards

NAACP Image Award Recipient

Kennedy Center Honoree

Honorary Doctorate- Howard University

Star on the Walk of Fame

Tony Award Winner

AAFCA Legacy Award

ACE Award Nominee


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Janelle Monáe (1985 – ) Singer, Songwriter, Actress, Model, Rapper & Producer

“I feel like Harriet Tubman, except I am trying to free people through underground music, to free themselves creatively and inspirationally” a profound declaration made by the singer, songwriter, Covergirl Model,  and self-proclaimed Arch Android, Janelle Monáe.  She is the CEO of her own music label, in which her music garnered her eight Grammy Award nominations.  In addition, her film career has catapulted into ultra success, having landed major roles in four Oscar-nominated movies, to include Moonlight (2016) which won 3 Oscars and Hidden Figures (2016).  As an artist, she has un-sheepishly used her platform to highlight social issue such as police brutality.

Born Janelle Monáe Robinson, on Decemeber 1, 1985 to working class parents in Kansas City, Kansas.  Her mother, Janet, worked as a janitor and a hotel housekeeper.  Her father, Michael Robinson Summers,  worked as a truck driver. Janelle’s parents separated when she was a toddler.  However, her mother later re-married and gave birth to her younger sister, Kimmy.

Janelle was raised in a thriving community within Kansas City called Quindaro, a town enriched in historical roots. It was established by Native Americans on the lands of the Wyandot Tribe, which was forced to move to Kansas Territory in 1844 on the heel of the Trail of Tears.  The land was sold to abolitionists just prior to the Civil War, and became a refuge for black Americans escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, Quindaro evolved into a strong African American community, laying the foundation that would build and support one of America’s first all-black colleges and medical centers, such as Western University and Douglas Hospital.

Janelle’s family lineage is rooted in relentless matriarchy.  Her maternal grandmother owned several homes in a row that housed cousins, aunts, and uncles.  “My grandmother had 11 children and although we didn’t have a whole lot of money, what we did have was a lot of love. My grandmother was the matriarch. If you didn’t have a place to stay, if you needed food, if you were just coming out of jail or rehab, you went to her. Watching her in our family and our wider community was what inspired me and still does,” a statement from the Grammy-nominated singer.

Janelle was also very close to her paternal great-grandmother and spent a significant amount of time at her house.  Her great-grandmother was the main connection to her dad and his family, as he went in and out of prison.  Janelle’s relationship with her father was rocky until he became sober.

Her family members were musicians and performers.  At a very early age, Janelle had dreamed of being a singer and a performer.  She was bought up in the Baptist Church where her talent was reared and nurtured.   Her church would host talent shows for Juneteenth, where she covered “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” three years in a row and won each time. There was a time when she was escorted out of church for insisting on singing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in the middle of the service.  Yet, this incident did not deter her from her religious devotions or attendance.

As a teenager, she was enrolled in a young playwrights’ program, the Coterie Theater’s Young Playwrights’ Round Table, where she began writing musicals. One musical that she composed was inspired by  Stevie Wonder’s album Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants”.  She achieved this around the age of 12.

She attended F. L. Schlagle High School.  Shortly after graduation, she moved to New York City to study musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  She was the only black woman in her class.  Although she had an enjoyable experience, she feared that she might lose her edge and “sound, or look or feel like anybody else,” according to the androgynous performer. 

After a year and a half, Janelle dropped out of the academy and relocated to Atlanta, enrolling in Perimeter College at Georgia State University. She began writing her own music and performing around the campus. In 2003, she self-released a demo album titled The Audition, which she sold out of the trunk of her car.

It was during this period Janelle became acquainted with songwriters and producers Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder. The three would eventually form the Wondaland Arts Society.

While juggling her musical ambitions, she worked at Office Depot and was eventually fired for using one of the company’s computers to respond to a fan’s e-mail.  That specific incident inspired the song “Lettin’ Go”  which caught the attention of Big Boi, a member of the Atlanta-based, hip-hop group Outkast.  Janelle was a feature on Outkast’s album Idlewild.  This opportunity led to her meeting Sean Combs and being signed to Bad Boy Record Label in 2006.

The rest is “virtual” history.  Her music, acting, and modeling careers have skyrocketed and she has become a popular mainstream entertainer. She currently resides in  Atlanta, where she enjoys practicing yoga and making music.



“Black history is part of American history, and it should be treated as such.”

“I will not be a slave to my image, nor will I be a slave to anyone else’s interpretations of me,”

“I love the mystery behind things.”

“I feel like Harriet Tubman, except I am trying to free people through underground music, to free themselves creatively and inspirationally.”

“I’m a believer that the more I’m giving, the happier I am, and the more beautiful my exterior will be.”

“I always think about the next generation and creating a different blueprint for them. That’s my goal: to let them know there’s another way.”

“Perfection is the enemy of greatness”

“Don’t get high off praises, and don’t get too low on critiques.”

“You are only as beautiful as the many beautiful things you do for others without expectation.”

“Even if it makes others comfortable, I will LOVE who I am”

“I take goldenseal, Echinacea and cod liver oil when flying to boost my immune system.”


Awards & Nominations:

 Grammy Awards
Year Nominee / work Award Result
2009 “Many Moons” Best Urban/Alternative Performance Nominated
2011 The ArchAndroid Best Contemporary R&B Album Nominated
“Tightrope” Best Urban/Alternative Performance Nominated
Some Nights[10] Album of the Year (as a featured artist) Nominated
“We Are Young” Record of the Year Nominated
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Nominated
2019 Dirty Computer Album of the Year Nominated
“Pynk” Best Music Video Nominated

 MTV Video Music Awards
Year Nominee / work Award Result
2010 “Tightrope” Best Choreography Nominated
2012 “We Are Young” (with Fun) Best Pop Video Nominated
2013 “Q.U.E.E.N.” Best Art Direction Won
2018 “Pynk” Best Video with a Message Nominated
“Make Me Feel” Best Art Direction Nominated
Best Editing Nominated

  NAACP Image Awards
Year Nominee / work Award Result
2014 Janelle Monáe Outstanding Female Artist Nominated
“Q.U.E.E.N.” Outstanding Music Video Won
Outstanding Song Nominated
The Electric Lady Outstanding Album Nominated
2019 Janelle Monáe Outstanding Female Artist Nominated
Dirty Computer Outstanding Album Nominated

  Screen Actors Guild Awards
Year Nominee / work Award Result
2017 Hidden Figures Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won
Moonlight Nominated


Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/janelle-monae-frees-herself-629204/

IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1847117/bio?ref_=nm_sa_1

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janelle_Mon%C3%A1e

Black Doctor: https://blackdoctor.org/janelle-monae-yoga-and-family/#:~:text=I%20live%20in%20Atlanta.,the%20music%20video%2C%20as%20well.

Kansas City Public Library: https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/quindaro-kansas

Black Past: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/quindaro-kansas-territory-1857-1862/


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Nikki Giovanni (1943 – ) Poet, Writer, Speaker, Activist, & Educator

“Writing is what I do to justify the air I breathe,”  a lucid statement from the exceptionally clever and widely read poet, speaker, author, and educator known as Nikki Giovanni.  This living legend first rose to prominence in the 1970s, after the self-publication of her book debut, Black Feeling, Black Talk.  Hailed as the “Princess of Black Poetry,”  Nikki provided a voice for the black experience. She has been named “Women of the Year” by Ebony Magazine, Mademoiselle Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal . She is a five-time bestselling author, whose resume of 27 books continues to shape conversations among diverse audiences.  In essence, Nikki Giovanni holds a wide range of honors and awards which include The Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, seven NAACP Image Awards and twenty-seven honorary degrees.

Born on June 7, 1943 to Knoxville College graduates Gus and Yolanda Giovanni at Old Knoxille General Hospital, she was the younger of two daughters in a close-knit family. Her name at birth was Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr, however,  during the first three years of her life, her older sister (Gary Ann Giovanni) began calling her “Nikki.”

During Nikki’s childhood, the family would make frequent visits to their grandparents’ home in Knoxville.  It was during this period she gained an intense appreciation for black culture and heritage from her grandmother. This early exposure to the power of spoken language influenced Nikki’s career as a poet and engendered her sophisticated use of vernacular speech.

In 1947 at the age of four, she moved with her parents from Knoxville to a predominantly black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.  In spite of the distance, she remained close to her grandmother. During her formative years, academics presented no problem to her, therefore she swiftly excelled.  By the time she reached high school, both her French and English teachers persuaded her to apply for early college admission.  In 1960, she enrolled in the early entrance program at Fisk University, her grandfather’s Alma Mater.

By early fall, a young, freethinking Nikki matriculated to Fisk University.  Wholly unaware of the staunch conservatism embedded in this small HBCU, nearly at the outset of campus life, she found conflict with the Dean of Women, Ann Cheatam.  The Dean’s ideas about the behavior and attitudes appropriate to a Fisk woman were diametrically opposed to Nikki’s ideas about the intellectual seriousness and political awareness appropriate to a college student. Unfortunately, the perpetual discord lead to Nikki’s expulsion.  On February 1, 1961, Nikki was expelled from Fisk after attending one semester.

After a few years precede by, Nikki decided to visit the University again for possible re-enrollment.  During this time, the former Dean Cheatam had a new replacement Blanche McConnell Cowan, whose personality was opposite of her predecessor’s. Dean Cowan purged the file in which Dean Cheatam gathered on Nikki and encourages her to come back to Fisk. In the fall of 1964, Nikki returned to campus, majoring in history.  With much support from Dean Cowan, Nikki strived academically and became a leader on campus.  She re-established the campus chapter of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). In addition, she attended writing workshops, and published various essays in Negro Digest on gender questions in the Movement.

In 1967, after graduating with honors from Fisk University , she returned to Cincinnati and established the city’s first Black Arts Festival. During this period, she began writing poems that are included in her first self-published volume, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968). The following year she moved to New York.

In 1969, she found work as a teacher at Queens College.  As a way to promote her second book Black Judgement, she hosted a highly successful Book-party at Birdland (the New York City jazz club) where she gave her first public reading. The event attracted hundreds of people and made the next day’s publication of The New York Times. As a result of the article, Nikki began receiving widespread attention from the media and multiple invitations to read and speak. In April of the same year, The New York Times featured her in an article entitled “Renaissance in Black Poetry Expresses Anger.” The Amsterdam News named her one of the ten “most admired black women.”

By the mid-1970s, she established herself as one of the leading poetic voices and has become one of America’s most widely read poets. Her autobiography Gemini was a finalist for the National Book Award, and several of her books have received NAACP Image Awards. Oprah Winfrey named her as one of her twenty-five “Living Legends.” She has received about twenty-five honorary degrees, in addition to being named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle MagazineThe Ladies Home Journal and Ebony.  She was the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and has been awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for poetry.

Nikki Giovanni is one of the world’s most well-known black poets.  She presently resides in Christiansburg, Virginia. She is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blackburg, Virginia where she English.

Books & Poems:

For a comprehensive list of Nikki Giovanni’s published works, please visit: nikki-giovanni.com

Poems: DreamsMothersNikki-RosaEgo TrippingBLK History MonthLegacies


Awards & Honors:

The Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award (first recipient)

Seven NAACP Image Awards

Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album

National Book Award nomination for Gemini

Parents’ Choice Award for The Sun Is So Quiet

The New York Times Best Seller’s List – 3 times

Legends and Legacies Award

The Langston Hughes Award

The Gwendolyn Brooks Award

Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech

Presidential Medal of Honor, Dillard University

Keys to more than two dozen American cities, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and New Orleans

Life Membership & Scroll, The National Council of Negro Women

Named one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 Living Legends

Phi Beta Kappa

State Historical markers in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Lincoln Heights, Ohio

The Tennessee Governor’s Award in the Arts

Tennessee Governor’s Award In the Humanities

Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts

Woman of the Year, Ebony Magazine

Woman of the Year, Ladies Home Journal

Woman of the Year, Mademoiselle Magazine

American Book Award

Caldecott Honor Book Award

Carl Sandburg Literary Award

Moonbeam Children’s Book Award

Tennessee Writer’s Award, The Nashville Banner

The Appalachian Medallion Award

The East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame Award

ALC Lifetime Achievement Award

Art Sanctuary’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Artist-in-Residence. The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts

Distinguished Visiting Professor, Johnson & Wales University

Duncanson Artist in Residence, The Taft Museum

Poet-In-Residence, Walt Whitman Birthplace Association

The Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair, Texas Christian University

The Hill Visiting Professor, University of Minnesota

Sankofa Freedom Award

The Legacy Award, National Alumni Council United Negro College Fund

The Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame

2000 Council of Ideas, The Gihon Foundation

A species of bat named in her honor (Micronycteris giovanniae)

Affrilachian Award

American Library Association’s Black Caucus Award for Non-fiction

Ann Fralin Award

Child Magazine Best Children’s Book of the Year

Cincinnati Bi-Centennial Honoree

Excellence in Leadership Award from Dominion Power

The SHero Award for Lifetime Achievement

United States Senate Certificate of Commendation

Woman of the Year, Cincinnati YWCA

Women of Power Legacy Award



“If you don’t understand yourself you don’t understand anybody else.”

“We love because it’s the only true adventure.”

“Black love is black wealth”

“I come from a long line of storytellers”

“Nothing is easy to the unwilling.”

“I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”

“Mistakes are a fact of life: It is the response to the error that counts.”
“A lot of people refuse to do things because they don’t want to go naked, don’t want to go without guarantee. But that’s what’s got to happen. You go naked until you die”

“You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts because if you write with someone looking over you shoulder, you’ll never write.”



Nikki Giovanni

Poetry Foundation


Macmillan Publishers


New Haven Register



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Bass Reeves (1838 – 1910) The Real Lone Ranger

Did You Know?

The ‘real’ Lone Ranger was a Black man named Bass Reeves. He was former slave who escaped from slavery and lived among the native American Indians. He was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory. During his long career, he was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons.

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Lauryn Hill (1975 – ) Award Winning Singer, Rapper, Actress, & Songwriter

“We should always be aspiring to know more, and to better ourselves, and to improve ourselves. To improve ourselves, because that’s how we improve the world around us, by working within us,” profound words spoken by the unparalleled, ultra-talented, matchless beauty Lauryn Hill. A former member of the hip hop trio The Fugees, Lauryn went on to break multiple music records with the release of her solo debut album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”  She is regarded as a musical genius and a triple-threat for being a natural actress, gifted musical artist, and alluring model. In 2020, Lauryn is set to go on tour, commemorating the 20th Anniversary of her debut album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

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