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Today in Black History, 3/14/2012

• March 14, 1919 Luther Henderson, arranger, composer, orchestrator, and pianist, was born in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1942, Henderson earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the Juilliard School of Music. From 1944 to 1946, he served as staff orchestrator for the United States Navy School of Music. Henderson served as orchestrator, or arranger, or music director, or composer on more than 50 Broadway musicals, including “Funny Girl” (1964), “No No Nanette” (1971), and “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music” (1981). In 1992, he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Score for “Jelly’s Last Jam” and in 1997 he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Orchestration for “Play On!.” Henderson died July 29, 2003 and in 2004 was posthumously designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor bestowed by the United States on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to students of color to pursue studies in orchestration, arranging and composition at The Julliard School.

 

• March 14, 1933 Quincy Delight Jones, Jr., trumpeter, music conductor and arranger, record producer, and film composer, was born in Chicago, Illinois. In 1951, Jones won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, but abandoned his studies when he received an offer to play in the band of Lionel Hampton. In 1956, he toured the Middle East and South America as musical director of the Dizzy Gillespie Band and upon his return to the United States began his recording career as the leader of his own band. In 1964, Jones composed the first of his 33 motion picture scores for the film “The Pawnbroker.” Other film compositions include “In Cold Blood” (1967), “In The Heat of the Night” (1967), “The Italian Job” (1969), and “The Color Purple” (1985). Jones’s recordings also garnered acclaim, including “Walking In Space” (1969), “Smackwater Jack” (1971), “The Dude” (1981), and “Q’s Juke Joint” (1995). In 1985, Jones produced and conducted “We Are the World” to raise money for the victims of Ethiopia’s famine. Jones also produced “Off The Wall” (1979), “Thriller” (1982), and “Bad” (1987) for Michael Jackson. In 1971, Jones became the first African American to be named musical director/conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony and in 1995 he was the first African American to win the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Additionally, Jones has earned a record 79 Grammy Award nominations and 27 Grammy Awards, including the 1991 Grammy Legend Award. In 2008, Jones was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor bestowed by the United States on a Jazz musician, by the National Endowment of the Arts. Jones is one of the founders of the Institute for Black American Music which is raising funds for a national library of African American art and music and he is the founder of the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation which connects youth with technology, education, culture, and music. In 2000, Harvard University endowed the Quincy Jones Professorship of Afro-American Music, in 2007 Jones received the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, and in 2009 he received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy. In 2010, Jones was presented with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Barack Obama. “The Autobiography of Quincy Jones” was published in 2001.

 

• March 14, 1935 Richard Berry Harrison, actor, teacher, and lecturer, died. Harrison was born September 28, 1864 in London, Ontario, Canada, the son of formerly enslaved parents who had escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. As a young man, Harrison moved to Detroit, Michigan and began dramatic studies at the Detroit Training School of Dramatic Arts. From 1892 to 1896, Harrison traveled the country performing as a dramatic reader. His repertoire included works from Shakespeare and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Harrison became well known for playing “de Lawd” in the play “The Green Pastures.” The play opened on Broadway in 1930 and he appeared in over 1,650 performances. This was his only professional appearance in a play. Harrison also taught elocution and dramatic courses at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. In 1931, Harrison received the NAACP Spingarn Medal and in 1934 he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Howard University and honorary doctorate degrees in dramatic literature from North Carolina A&T and Lincoln University. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine on March 4, 1935. The Richard B. Harrison Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, Richard B. Harrison High School in Blytheville, Arkansas, and the Richard B. Harrison Auditorium at North Carolina A&T are all named in his honor. The book, “De Lawd: Richard B. Harrison and the Green Pastures” was published in 1986.

 

• March 14, 1946 Westley Sissel “Wes” Unseld, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Unseld played college basketball for three years beginning in 1965 with the University of Louisville where he was an All-American. He was selected in the 1968 NBA Draft by the Baltimore Bullets. That year, he became only the second NBA player ever to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Valuable Player Award. Over his 13 year professional career, Unseld was a five-time All-Star and in 1975 received the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for community contributions. Unseld retired after the 1980-1981 season and the Washington Bullets retired his 41 uniform number shortly afterwards. In 1988, Unseld was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and in 1996 he was named one the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of all time. After retiring, Unseld served as a vice president with the Washington Bullets from 1981 to 1987 and as their head coach from 1987 to 1994. He currently operates a private school in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

• March 14, 1960 Kirby Puckett, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Puckett earned All-American honors for baseball in high school. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1982 and made his major league debut in 1984. Over his 12-season professional career, Puckett was a ten-time All-Star, six-time Gold Glove Award winner, and in 1986 won the Roberto Clemente Award which is given to the player that best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team. Puckett was forced to retire in 1995 due to the loss of vision in one eye. The Minnesota Twins retired Puckett’s number 34 uniform in 1997 and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. Puckett died March 6, 2006. Puckett published his autobiography, “I Love This Game,” in 1993. A bronze statue of Puckett was unveiled outside of the Twins’ stadium in 2010.

 

• March 14, 1977 Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer, voting rights activist and civil rights leader, died. Hamer was born October 6, 1917 in Sunflower, Mississippi. In 1961, without her knowledge or consent, Hamer was sterilized by a white doctor as part of the state of Mississippi’s plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. In 1962, she began working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register African Americans to vote. In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was organized to challenge Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention and Hamer was elected vice chairperson. Although their efforts were unsuccessful that year, they did cause the Democratic Party to adopt a clause which demanded equality of representation from their state’s delegation in 1968 and Hamer was seated as a member of Mississippi’s delegation to the convention that year. Hamer’s tombstone reads “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” There are several biographies of Hamer, including “Fannie Lou Hamer: From Sharecropping to Politics” (1990) and “This Little Light of Mine: the Life of Fannie Lou Hamer” (1993). Hamer’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.

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