Tag: Black History Month

#TuesdayArt: Henry Ossawa Tanner

The most distinguished African-American artist of the nineteenth century, Henry Ossawa Tanner was also the first artist of his race to achieve international acclaim. Tanner was born on June 21, 1859, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Benjamin Tucker and Sarah Miller Tanner. Tanner’s father was a college-educated teacher and minister who later became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church. Sarah Tanner was a former slave whose mother had sent her north to Pittsburgh through the Underground Railroad. Tanner’s family moved frequently during his early years when his father was assigned to various churches and schools. In 1864 Tanner’s family settled in Philadelphia where his early artistic interests were developed. At age thirteen, Tanner decided to become an artist when he saw a painter at work during a walk in Fairmount Park near his home. Throughout his teens, Tanner painted and drew constantly in his spare time and tried to look at art as much as possible in Philadelphia art galleries. He also studied briefly with two of the city’s minor painters.

Eager to discourage his son’s interest in art, Bishop Tanner apprenticed him to a friend to learn the milling business. For Tanner, a frail young man whose health was never strong throughout his life, the work in the flour mill proved too strenuous and he became seriously ill. His parents encouraged his painting during his recuperation, and Tanner lived at home during the next few years except for several trips to the Adirondack Mountains and Florida for his health. In 1880, when Tanner was twenty-one, he enrolled in the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There he studied with a group of master professors including Thomas Eakins. It was Eakins who exerted the greatest influence on Tanner’s early style. Tanner left the Pennsylvania Academy prior to graduating to pursue the idea of combining business with art. In 1888 he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and established a modest photography gallery where he attempted to earn a semiartistic living by selling drawings, making photographs, and teaching art classes at Clark College. In spite of his combined efforts, Tanner’s Atlanta venture barely profited enough to provide living expenses.

In Atlanta, Tanner met Bishop and Mrs. Joseph Crane Hartzell, who became his primary white patrons over the next several years. In the summer of 1888 Tanner sold his small gallery and moved to Highlands, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he hoped to study and earn a living by his photography. He also felt that the mountains would be good for his delicate health. While there, Tanner may have made many sketches and photographs of the region and its African-American residents, some of which were later used as subjects in his most important early paintings.

In the fall of 1888, Tanner returned to Atlanta and taught drawing for two years at Clark College. After discussing his ambitions to travel abroad with Bishop and Mrs. Hartzell, they arranged an exhibition of Tanner’s works in Cincinnati in the fall of 1890. When no paintings were sold, the Hartzells bought the entire collection. This endowment allowed Tanner to sail for Rome in January 1891. After brief stays in Liverpool and London, Tanner arrived in Paris. He was so impressed by this center of art and artists that he abandoned his plans to study in Rome.

In Paris, Tanner enrolled in the Académie Julian where the painters Jean Paul Laurens and Jean Joseph Benjamin-Constant were among his teachers. It was not long before he painted two of his most important works depicting African-American subjects, The Banjo Lesson of 1893 and The Thankful Poor of 1894. During the summers of 1892 and 1893, Tanner left Paris and lived in isolated rural areas in Brittany. His best-known paintings from that period are The Bagpipe Lesson of 1894 and The Young Sabot Maker of 1895. Both depict French peasants, and Tanner assimilated the inhabitants of his rural French environment into his works as he had done previously in the mountains of Highlands, North Carolina.

In 1895, Tanner painted Daniel in the Lion’s Den, which won an honorable mention in the Paris Salon the same year. Two years later he completed Resurrection of Lazarus, which so impressed Rodman Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant in Paris, that he decided to finance the first of Tanner’s several trips to the Holy Land. Before leaving, Tanner sent his Resurrection of Lazarus to the Paris Salon where it was awarded a third class medal and was purchased by the French government for exhibition at the Luxembourg Gallery and eventually entered the collection of the Louvre.

Spurred by his newly found acclaim, Tanner visited Philadelphia for several months in 1893. The visit, however, convinced him that he could not fight racial prejudice. Tanner returned to Paris and focused on painting religious subjects and landscapes. In 1899 Tanner married Jessie Olssen, a white opera singer from San Francisco, whom he had met in Paris. The couple’s only child, Jesse Ossawa, was born in New York in 1903. Their marriage may have influenced Tanner’s decision to settle permanently in France, where the family divided its time between Paris and a farm near Étaples in Normandy.

During the final decades of Tanner’s career he enjoyed consistent acclaim. In 1900, his 1895 painting, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, was awarded a silver medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris; the following year it received a silver medal at the Pan American exhibition in Buffalo.

In 1908 his first one-man exhibition of religious paintings in the United States was held at the American Art Galleries in New York. Two years later, Tanner was elected a member of the National Academy of Design. In 1923 he was made an honorary chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, and in 1927 he became a full academician of the National Academy of Design, the first African American to receive that honor. In his later years, Tanner was a symbol of hope and inspiration for African-American leaders and young black artists, many of whom visited him in Paris. On May 25, 1937, Tanner died at his home in Paris.

 

#MeterologyMonday: Al Roker

Born in 1954 in New York City, Al Roker began his career as a weatherman while attending the State University of New York at Oswego. He joined WNBC-TV in 1983, undertaking increasingly high-profile assignments until joining The Today Show as an anchor in 1996. Roker has also hosted a morning program for The Weather Channel, founded a production company and authored multiple best-selling books.

Early Years and Career

Weatherman and television personality. Born Albert Lincoln Roker Jr. on August 20, 1954, in New York City. The oldest of six children born to parents Albert Sr. and Isabel, Roker grew up in the St. Albans section of eastern Queens. He was drawn to television as a child, though he mainly imagined himself as an animator or a director, and never expected to become a featured performer.

After attending Manhattan’s Xavier High School, where he was a member of the AV squad, Roker studied communications at the State University of New York at Oswego. He took a meteorology course to fulfill a science requirement, and with help from his department chairman he secured a weekend weatherman gig at a CBS affiliate in nearby Syracuse. Roker continued with the station through his senior year, earning his B.A. in 1976.

After graduation, Roker moved to Washington, D.C. to deliver the weather for the Metromedia station WTTG. During this time, he met veteran television personality Willard Scott, who became a key figure in the young weatherman’s developing career. Roker then went to work in Cleveland in 1978, remaining with NBC affiliate WKYC-TV for five years.

Broadcasting Fame

Upon returning to New York City in 1983, Roker served as the weekend weatherman for WNBC-TV’s flagship station. An engaging, jovial presence, he soon moved to weeknight broadcasts, and began appearing regularly as a substitute on such programs as NBC News at Sunrise and The Today Show. He was named co-host of NBC’s annual Christmas at Rockefeller Center special in 1985, and eventually signed on for coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Roker received a career boost when Scott stepped down from The Today Show and recommended his protégé as his replacement. Roker officially joined the popular morning program as featured anchor and weatherman in January 1996, a role that gave him the opportunity to expand his national profile. Along with reporting from the site of natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Roker conducted interviews with such famed individuals as longtime Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Popular TV personality, author and producer Al Roker began his professional career as a weatherman before becoming an anchor for ‘The Today Show’ in 1996.

Synopsis

Born in 1954 in New York City, Al Roker began his career as a weatherman while attending the State University of New York at Oswego. He joined WNBC-TV in 1983, undertaking increasingly high-profile assignments until joining The Today Show as an anchor in 1996. Roker has also hosted a morning program for The Weather Channel, founded a production company and authored multiple best-selling books.

Early Years and Career

Weatherman and television personality. Born Albert Lincoln Roker Jr. on August 20, 1954, in New York City. The oldest of six children born to parents Albert Sr. and Isabel, Roker grew up in the St. Albans section of eastern Queens. He was drawn to television as a child, though he mainly imagined himself as an animator or a director, and never expected to become a featured performer.

After attending Manhattan’s Xavier High School, where he was a member of the AV squad, Roker studied communications at the State University of New York at Oswego. He took a meteorology course to fulfill a science requirement, and with help from his department chairman he secured a weekend weatherman gig at a CBS affiliate in nearby Syracuse. Roker continued with the station through his senior year, earning his B.A. in 1976.

After graduation, Roker moved to Washington, D.C. to deliver the weather for the Metromedia station WTTG. During this time, he met veteran television personality Willard Scott, who became a key figure in the young weatherman’s developing career. Roker then went to work in Cleveland in 1978, remaining with NBC affiliate WKYC-TV for five years.

Broadcasting Fame

Upon returning to New York City in 1983, Roker served as the weekend weatherman for WNBC-TV’s flagship station. An engaging, jovial presence, he soon moved to weeknight broadcasts, and began appearing regularly as a substitute on such programs as NBC News at Sunrise and The Today Show. He was named co-host of NBC’s annual Christmas at Rockefeller Center special in 1985, and eventually signed on for coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Roker received a career boost when Scott stepped down from The Today Show and recommended his protégé as his replacement. Roker officially joined the popular morning program as featured anchor and weatherman in January 1996, a role that gave him the opportunity to expand his national profile. Along with reporting from the site of natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Roker conducted interviews with such famed individuals as longtime Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

With the launch of Al Roker Entertainment, Inc. in 1994, the newsman began producing programs for several prominent networks, including Discovery, Lifetime, Spike and A&E. He scored successes with the Food Network’s Roker on the Road, in which he traversed the country to report on local culinary favorites, and the PBS severe-weather series Savage Skies. Roker’s cheerful personality also made him a natural fit for the role of game show host, with Remember This? and Celebrity Family Feud among his credits, and he appeared as himself on the popular shows Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.

Roker shouldered additional morning duties as co-host of The Weather Channel’s Wake Up with Al show from July 2009 through October 2015. He has since moved to The Lift, a shorter program for the network’s mobile app, and has focused efforts on the development of digital properties and content with the foundation of Al Roker Labs.

The accomplished newsman has won more than a dozen Emmy Awards, is a recipient of the American Meteorological Society’s Seal of Approval and has twice been named New York magazine’s Best Weatherman. Roker is also a Guinness World Record holder, earning that distinction after delivering a 34-hour live weather broadcast for charity in November 2014. In June 2015, he was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Other Endeavors and Personal

In addition to his television and production work, Roker is a prolific author. His first book, Don’t Make Me Stop This Car: Adventures in Fatherhood (2000), became a New York Times best seller, and he followed with multiple cookbooks. Roker later teamed up with Dick Lochte to write The Morning Show Murders (2009), the first in a series of murder-mystery novels starring celebrity chef Billy Blessing.

In 2002, Roker underwent a highly publicized gastric bypass surgery to lose weight, dropping 100 pounds just eight months following the surgery. Underscoring his commitment to the fight against obesity, he successfully completed the New York City marathon in 2010.

Roker met television journalist Deborah Roberts when the two appeared on an episode of Today in 1990. Married in September 1996, they live in Manhattan and have two children, Leila and Nicky. Roker also has a daughter, Courtney, from a previous marriage.

 

#SaturdayStamps: Ethel L. Payne

Pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne was born on August 14, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois to William A. Payne and Bessie Austin. Known as the “First Lady of Black Press” for her extensive list of accomplishments as a writer, journalist, and reporter, Payne, according to her colleagues, asked questions no one else dared to ask.

Payne attended Lindblom High School which was located in a white Chicago neighborhood. Despite the unwelcoming environment, she became an accomplished student in her English and history courses. One of her English teachers encouraged Payne to write and helped her with her first submission to a magazine.  The article was subsequently published. Payne pursued higher education at Crane Junior College and Garrett Biblical Institute, graduating from the latter institution in 1933. Upon graduation she decided to become a lawyer. The University of Chicago Law School, however, refused to accept her application because of her race.

Payne never became a lawyer.  Nonetheless, she devoted the rest of her life and career to racial justice issues.  In 1948, Payne responded to a Red Cross call-for-action to serve American forces in Japan and became a hostess for a military services social club. While in Japan, she met a reporter from the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper, and allowed him to take her journal back to his editors. Impressed by her writing, the newspaper used her journal notes to formulate an article about racially discriminatory practices in the U.S. military in Japan.  The article, the first of a series, was published on the front page of the Defender. In 1951, Payne was hired full-time by the Chicago newspaper and became the first African American woman to focus on international news coverage in addition to her national assignments.

Payne pursued assignments around the world. In 1955, she attended the Bandung Conference with the writer Richard Wright.  She covered the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. In 1966, she reported from Vietnam. and the following year she covered the Biafran War.  Her interviews with prominent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Nelson Mandela, and Senator John F. Kennedy made her a widely known and prominent global reporter.

In 1955, Payne was one of only three black journalists to cover the White House.  During one White House press conference she asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower what he was going to do to address racial disparities in the United States. His angry response made front page news the next day, but it also pushed civil rights issues to the top of the agenda for Eisenhower’s Administration and those that followed him. Her critiques carried significant influence at a time when U.S. State Department eagerly sought to depict to leaders around the world, and particularly in the new countries of Africa, the idea that American race relations were amicable.

After working with the Defender for 25 years, Payne in 1972 became the first African American woman to serve as a radio and television commentator when she was hired by CBS News. Throughout the 1980s she reported on apartheidin South Africa and worked for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Ethel Payne died at the age of 79 after a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on May 29, 1991. Her many honors included an award from the Capital Press Club in 1967 for her reporting during the Vietnam War and the TransAfrica African Freedom Award in 1987.

#FashionFriday: Willi Smith

Willi Smith worked as a fashion illustrator with Arnold Scaasi for several years. From 1967 to 1976 he also worked as a freelance designer for companies such as Bobbi Brooks and Digits Inc. He specialized in sportswear, injecting an element of playfulness into functional garments such as the jump suit that he cut out of silver-coated cloth. In 1976 he and Laurie Mallet, who subsequently became president of the company, established the successful label Willi Wear Limited, which captured the spirit of pragmatic leisurewear. Together they launched a collection of clothes consisting of thirteen silhouettes in soft cotton, manufactured in India and sold in New York. Such was the demand for the relaxed styling and affordable clothes of the label that the company’s revenue grew from $30,000 in its first year to $25 million in 1986.

Smith’s Menswear

In 1978 Smith added a men’s wear collection, and in 1986 he designed the navy, linen, double-breasted suit worn by Edwin Schlossberg for his marriage to Caroline Kennedy, together with the violet linen blazers and white trousers worn by the groom’s party. He was, however, primarily a designer of women’s wear. From its origins in a single New York store, the company went on to open offices in London (a boutique in St. Christopher’s Place), Paris, and Los Angeles, as well as more than a thousand outlets in stores throughout the United States. The Paris store-his first eponymous store- opened posthumously in 1987. Just before his untimely death that year, he expressed his desire to Deny Filmer of Fashion Weekly to see all WilliWear products housed under one roof. “I want my stores to be a little funkier, like, wilder and fun to go into. You know that wonderful feeling when you go into an army surplus store, they have an unpretentious atmosphere. I don’t want to push a lifestyle” (p. 7).

Democracy in Fashion

Smith’s attitude toward fashion was democratic and the antithesis of the ostentatious 1980s. His main concern was that his clothes should be comfortable and affordable. He was dismissive of the edict “dress for success,” identifying with the youth cults he saw on the streets of New York and drawing much of his inspiration from them. To this end he provided comfortable, functional clothes in soft fabrics that did not restrict the body in any way. He very often chose Indian textiles for their suppleness, diffused colors, and attractively distressed quality. His clothes were moderately priced, loose-fitting, occasionally oversized separates. Skirts were full and long and jackets oversized, in natural fabrics that wore well and were easy to maintain.

He disliked the pretentiousness of haute couture. “I would love to have a salon and design couture collections, but it’s so expensive … and I hate the theory of ‘We the rich can dress up and have fun, and the rest can dress in blazers and slacks.’ Fashion is a people thing, and designers should remember that” (Filmer, p. 9).

Smith’s obituary in the Village Voice (28 April 1987) by Hilton Als read,

“As both designer and person, Willi embodied all that was the brightest, best and most youthful in spirit in his field. … That a WilliWear garment was simple to care for italicised the designer’s democratic urge: to clothe people as simply, beautifully, and inexpensively as possible. “

For a brief period after his death, the company continued to function, and it opened its own store on lower Fifth Avenue in New York. In 1996 WilliWear was relaunched, designed by Michael Shulman, and available in T.J. Maxx stores.

Although never an innovator, Willi Smith represented a paradigm of casual American style, creating affordable classic separates. Their functionality and informality was not reliant on overt sexuality or on the status implied by high fashion, and they appealed to a broad spectrum of people. Smith received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1983, and New York City designated 23 February as “Willi Smith Day.” He was also honored by the Fashion Walk of Fame.

#TheologyThursday: Thomas A. Dorsey

During the early 1930s, Thomas Dorsey created gospel music — the African American religious music which married secular blues to a sacred text. Under the name “Georgia Tom” he performed with blues artist Ma Rainey and her Wild Cats Jazz Band. He wrote over 400 compositions, but it is for “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” that he is best known.

Dorsey was the son of a Baptist preacher; his mother was the church organist. Throughout his early years he felt torn between the sacred and the secular. At eleven, he left school to take a job at a local vaudeville theater. Six years later, Dorsey left Atlanta for Chicago. He was part of the Great Migration north. In Chicago, Dorsey found success almost immediately. He was known as the “whispering piano player,” called to perform at after-hours parties where the pianist had to play quietly enough to avoid drawing police attention.

At twenty-one, his hectic and unhealthy schedule led to a nervous breakdown. He convalesced back home in Atlanta. There, his mother admonished him to stop playing the blues and “ serve the Lord.” He ignored her and returned to Chicago, playing with Ma Rainey. He married his sweetheart, Nettie Harper. But in 1925, a second breakdown left Dorsey unable to play music.

After his recovery three years later, Dorsey committed himself to composing sacred music. However, mainstream churches rejected his songs. Then, in August 1932, Dorsey’s life was thrown into crisis when his wife and son died during childbirth. In his grief, he turned to the piano for comfort. The tune he wrote, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” came, he says, direct from God. Dorsey co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses in 1933. Six years later, he teamed with Mahalia Jackson, and the team ushered in what was known as the “Golden Age of Gospel Music.” Dorsey himself became known as the father of gospel music. He died in 1993.

#TuesdayArtist: Barkley Hendricks

Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris offers a tripled image, its single subject captured as if in a time lapse. Whether with eyes closed meditatively (on the left) or gazing into space (on the right), Sir Charles is alternately thoughtful and vigilant. Larger than life-size, this imposing figure clearly signals 1970s fashion, pop culture, and the assertion of black identity in the generation following the civil rights era. Barkley Hendricks cast his friends, lovers, family members, and men and women he met on the street as portrait subjects. Stark and monumental against a monochromatic ground, his portraits fix acutely on the individuality and self-expression of his subjects.
Hendricks said that a painting he saw in 1966 while visiting the National Gallery in London—a portrait by Flemish master Anthony van Dyck featuring a red velvet coat—was a point of departure for this work. Intending to make a replica of the Van Dyck image, Hendricks received permission to paint as a copyist in the museum. But once in the process, he realized he could not copy another artist’s work, “no matter how much I like it,” he said. Years later, he painted Sir Charles with Van Dyck’s red coat in mind. Other writers have likened Sir Charles to the iconic three graces—artistic muses (usually female) as portrayed by European old masters such as Botticelli and Rubens in three different attitudes, one usually with her back toward the viewer. It might be said that Hendricks’s artistic muses relate to classical Western art history as well as sources personal to the artist.
Hendricks, who was born in Philadelphia, studied there at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and earned BFA and MFA degrees from Yale University. He taught at Connecticut College. The recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, he exhibited his work at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum at Connecticut College; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University organized a career retrospective of Hendricks’s work, Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool.

#MeterologyMonday:

One of New York’s most recognized forecasters, Janice Huff is the weekday meteorologist for NBC4 delivering weather reports for the station’s “News 4 New York” 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

In addition, Huff is meteorologist for NBC’s Sunday morning edition of the “Today” show. She is also host of “Wednesday’s Child,” a weekly adoption feature that airs Wednesdays during “News 4 New York at 5” and again on “Sunday Today in New York.”

Huff joined NBC4 in January 1995 as meteorologist for the Saturday and Sunday weekend editions of “Today in New York.” In 1996, she began her position as the weekday 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. meteorologist.

Huff came to WNBC from KRON-TV, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, where she was the primary on-air meteorologist for the station’s 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts since 1991. She joined the station in 1990 as meteorologist for the 6 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. reports.

A passionate advocate for children and community-related issues, Huff has received numerous accolades for her work on “Wednesday’s Child.” Her awards and honors include the prestigious New York Chapter National Black Journalist Association’s “2007 Community Service Award;” the “2006 Golden Apple Award” from the New York City Chapter of American Women in Radio & Television (AWRT); the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies’ “2006 Laura Parsons Pratt Award;” the Administration for Children’s Services’ “2004 Golden Heart Award;” the 2004 “Miracle Makers Media Award” for her commitment and dedication to helping New York City’s Foster Care children; and the Second Annual “Nicholas Scoppetta Award for Service to Children.”

Huff was cited in 2002 as a “Grad Made Good” by her Alma Mater, Florida State University. She has also received the Police Athletic League’s “2002 Woman of the Year Award;” a 2000 YMCA “Champion For Youth” honor; and the City of Hope’s “Spirit of Life” award for her professional and personal example to New York City youth. The American Lung Association named Huff a “Clean Air Hero” for her work in promoting cleaner air and healthier lungs.

Huff’s professional awards include Bronx Community College’s 1995 “Kaleidoscope Award” for excellence in television meteorology; a St. Louis Emmy Award for “Best Weathercaster” (1988); and the American Meteorological Society’s Seal of Approval for Television Weather casting in 1985. In June 2008, Huff was honored with the YWCA of New York City’s “W” award for giving back to the community and for being an outstanding leader.

Huff is a member of the American Meteorological Society, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the Friar’s Club.

A native of Manhattan, Huff graduated from Florida State University at Tallahassee with a major in meteorology.

Huff is married and resides in New Jersey.