Today in Black History, 12/12/2011

·   December 12, 1899 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 638,811 for an improvement on the design of the bottle. His invention included an adjustable stopper that could be partially opened to allow the contents of the bottle to be poured out slowly. Richardson created several other devices that were completely unrelated to each other. He received patent number 255,022 on March 14, 1882 for a hame fastener, patent number 446,470 on February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, patent number 529,311 on November 13, 1894 for a casket lowering device, and patent number 620,362 on February 28, 1899 for an insect destroyer.

·   December 12, 1899 Dr. George Franklin Grant received patent number 638,920 for his invention of the golf tee. Grant did not manufacture or market the tee, therefore it was not seen by anyone outside of his circle of golfing friends. It was not until 1991 that the United States Golf Association recognized Grant as the inventor of the wooden tee and for his contribution to the game of golf. Grant was born September 16, 1846 in Oswego, New York. As a child, Grant worked as an errand boy for the local dentist and helped in the lab. He graduated with honors from the Harvard School of Dentistry in 1870, the second African American to graduate from the school. He then became the first African American member of the Harvard faculty when he took a position in the Department of Mechanical Dentistry, where he worked for 19 years. He was also recognized internationally for his invention of the oblate palate, a prosthetic device for the treatment of cleft palate. Grant was a founding member and later president of the Harvard Odontological Society. He was also a member of the Harvard Dental Alumni Association and was elected president in 1881. Grant died on August 21, 1910.

·   December 12, 1912 Henry Jackson, Jr. (Henry Armstrong), the first boxer to hold world titles in three separate weight classes at the same time, was born in Columbus, Mississippi. Armstrong assumed the surname of his mentor and trainer, Harry Armstrong, in 1931. Because the fight purses were small, Armstrong usually fought 12 times a year. On October 29, 1937, he won the Featherweight Championship of the world; on May 31, 1938 the Welterweight Championship of the world; and on August 17, 1938 the Lightweight Championship of the world. Ring Magazine named Armstrong Boxer of the Year for 1938. In 1939, Armstrong produced and starred in an autobiographical movie, “Keep Punching.” After losing his titles, Armstrong retired from boxing in 1945 with a professional record of 149 wins and 29 losses. In 1951, Armstrong was ordained a Baptist minister and he created the Henry Armstrong Youth Foundation, which he funded with the profits from the two books he had written, “Twenty Years of Poem, Moods, and Mediations” (1954) and his autobiography “Gloves, Glory, and God” (1956). In 1954, Armstrong was a charter inductee, along with Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey, to the Boxing Hall of Fame. Armstrong died October 22, 1988 and was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

·   December 12, 1918 Joseph Goreed (Joe Williams), jazz singer, was born in Cordele, Georgia, but raised in Chicago, Illinois. By his early teens, Williams had taught himself to play the piano and formed his own gospel group. By 1939, he had started to tour with established bands and got his big break in 1954 when he was hired as the male vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra, where he remained until 1961. His first album was recorded in 1955, “Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings,” and contained the single “Every Day I Have the Blues” which reached number two on the R&B charts. That recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992 as a recording of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” By the 1970s, Williams was appearing regularly on such variety shows as “The Tonight Show” and “The Steve Allen Show.” Williams was nominated for eight Grammy Awards and in 1985 he won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocalist for the album “Nothin’ but the Blues.” Williams worked regularly until his death on March 29, 1999. In 1983, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 1993 he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1995 he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. Prior to his death, Williams established the Joe Williams Every Day Foundation to provide support for music and musicians, especially those in jazz, and to create career opportunities for deserving young talent. Williams’ biography, “Every Day: The Story of Joe Williams,” was published in 1986.

·   December 12, 1929 Vincent Dacosta Smith, figurative painter, was born in New York City. At the age of 15, Smith dropped out of high school and became a hobo working odd jobs and spending a year in the army. In 1953, he discovered his love of art and became a full-time artist. His first solo show was held at the Brooklyn Museum Art School Gallery in 1955. In a career that spanned half a century, Smith documented in brilliant color some of the most compelling events of the 20th century, including 1940s Harlem jazz clubs, civil rights workers confronting hate, and the creative militancy of the Black Arts Movement. One of his works, “Rootin Tootin Blues,” was presented to President William Clinton during his first inauguration ceremony. Smith died December 27, 2003. His work is in the collections of several museums, including The Newark Museum, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, and The Columbus Museum of Art.

·   December 12, 1940 Marie Dionne Warwick, singer and activist, was born in East Orange, New Jersey. Warwick began singing gospel as a child and sang her first solo at the age of 6. In 1958, she and other members formed the Gospelaires which in their first performance together won the weekly amateur contest at the Apollo Theater. In 1962, Warwick’s first solo single was released, “Don’t Make Me Over,” which went to number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Over her career, Warwick is second to Aretha Franklin as the female vocalist with the most Billboard Hot 100 hits between 1955 and 1999 with 56, including “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (1963), “Walk on By” (1964), “I Say a Little Prayer” (1967), and “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” (1979). She has won five Grammy Awards and has three songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “lasting qualitative or historical significance”, “Don’t Make Me Over” (1962), “Walk on By” (1964), and “Alfie” (1967). In 2002, Warwick was appointed United Nations Global Ambassador for the Food and Agricultural Organization and in 2003 she was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. The Dionne Warwick Institute of Economics and Entrepreneurship in East Orange is named in her honor.

·   December 12, 1945 Anthony Tillmon “Tony” Williams, jazz drummer, was born in Chicago, Illinois but grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. Williams began playing professionally at the age of 13 and at 17 joined Miles Davis’ “Second Great Quintet.” Davis called Williams “the center that the group’s sound revolved around.” Williams recorded his first album as a leader, “Life Time,” in 1964. Other albums he recorded include “Emergency” (1969), “The Joy of Flying” (1979), and “Young at Heart” (1996). Williams died February 23, 1997 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame that same year.

·   December 12, 1949 Henry Thacker “Harry” Burleigh, classical composer, arranger and professional singer, died. Burleigh was born December 2, 1866 in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was trained at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City and began his professional singing career as a soloist for the all-white St. George’s Episcopal Church where he sang until 1946. In 1900, he also became the only black member of the synagogue choir at the Temple Emanu-El. In the late 1890s, Burleigh began to publish his own arrangements and compositions and by the late 1910s he was one of America’s best known composers. Over his career, Burleigh wrote 265 vocal works and made 187 choral arrangements of African American spirituals. He was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1914. In 1917, Burleigh was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. His biography, “Hard Times: The Life and Music of Harry T. Burleigh,” was published in 1990.

·   December 12, 1967 John Anthony Randle, hall of fame football player, was born in Mumford, Texas. Randall played college football at Trinity Valley Community College and Texas A&I University. After college, he was not selected in the NFL Draft but signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 1990. Over his 14 season professional career, Randle was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. Randle retired in 2004 with 137.5 sacks, the most by a defensive tackle in NFL history. He was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, inducted into the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame in 2008, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

·   December 12, 1982 Ibiagbanidokibubo Agbani Asenite Darego, the first Sub-Saharan African to win the Miss World title, was born in Abonnema, Nigeria. As a teenager, Darego longed to be a model. In 2001, she was crowned Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria and on November 16, 2001 she was crowned Miss World. After her reign as Miss World, Darego signed with a model management company and is currently pursuing a modeling career.

·   December 12, 2007 Ike Wister Turner, bandleader and record producer, died. Turner was born November 5, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His music career began in the late 1940s when he formed a group called The Kings of Rhythm. In 1951, the band recorded “Rocket 88” which many historians recognize as the first rock and roll record. While playing with the band, Turner also played guitar as a sideman for blues acts such as Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Rush. In 1956, he met a teenage singer named Anna Mae Bullock whose name he changed to Tina Turner and the name of the band became the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. In early 1960, they recorded “A Fool in Love,” which became a national hit, reaching number 2 on the R&B charts. From then until 1976, they were one of the most explosive duos in rock and soul music, recording singles such as “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (1961), “Proud Mary” (1971) and “Nutbush City Limits” (1973). After Tina left, Ike struggled as a solo act until 2001 when he released the Grammy Award nominated “Here & Now” album. In 2007, he won his first solo Grammy Award in the Best Traditional Blues Album category for “Risin’ with the Blues.” Ike and Tina were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.