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Black History Month - Celebrating Black Artists

February 22, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, CHAW featured a new, amazing artist daily on social media whose mark and influence on the arts is unparalleled. Our appreciation goes beyond this one month and we encourage you to join us in celebrating Black artists all year round.

1. Kicking off our daily celebration is superstar Cicely Tyson, actress and model extraordinaire who we lost just last week. NPR recently aired an incredible interview with Cicely, highlighting her long and storied career. "And it was at that time that I decided I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress. There were certain issues I had to address and I would use my career as my platform." 


2. Today we're celebrating ballerina Michela DePrince. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone and orphaned at a young age, Michela was adopted by an American family who recognized her talent and passion for ballet. "At the age of seventeen Michaela performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem professional company.  At eighteen she joined the Dutch National Junior Company as a second-year member and apprentice to the main company. Now at the age of twenty-five, Michaela is now ranked as a soloist at Dutch National Ballet" (from www.michaeladeprince.com).


3. Kehinde Wiley is a Los Angeles native and New York based painter known for his breathtaking portraits that riff on paintings by the Old Masters. His expansive and prolific career over 20 years has produced signature paintings of contemporary Black men and women that draw attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. Learn more about Kehinde at https://kehindewiley.com


4. "I'm of color. I have to be really good."

Sharon Camille Farmer was the first African American woman to be hired as a White House photographer and first female to be director of the White House Photography Office. She has worked as a photographer for the Smithsonian Institute, The Washington Post, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Born and raised in Washington, DC she went to college at Ohio State where she developed a reputation for being an activist. Photography was a huge part of her activism as she documented the movement and campus life. After college, she worked freelance for the Washington Post where her photographs caught the eye of Robert McNeely, the first director of White House photography. In 1993, Sharon was hired to cover President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, later being promoted to Director of White House Photography. 


5. “You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.”

It's Friday and our soul needs some Nina! Eunice Kathleen Waymon, known professionally as Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, musical arranger, and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of styles, including classical, jazz, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. Nina referred to her music as Black Classical Music. Read more and hear more from Nina at https://www.ninasimone.com. 


6. "I was practically driven to Rome in order to obtain the opportunities for art culture, and to find a social atmosphere where I was not constantly reminded of my color. The land of liberty had no room for a colored sculptor."

Today we're honoring sculptor Edmonia Lewis, the first professional African American and Native American sculptor. Born a free woman around 1844 in Upstate New York, she gained prominence during the Civil War. She spent most of her adult career in Rome. Her work is known for incorporating themes relating to Black people and indigenous peoples of the Americas into Neoclassical-style sculpture.


7“The art world is my community and I needed to help my community. People say New York is dead, but it’s far from that. There’s an artist somewhere writing the next greatest album. There’s a kid right now in his studio painting the next Mona Lisa. There’s probably a dancer right now choreographing the next epic ballet. People forgot about the artists in these industries.”

Guy Stanley Philoche is a Haitian-born modern painter who now lives in New York. This acclaimed artist has attracted international attention with his strong, sophisticated palette, and his textured work. Guy recently made headlines when he spent $65,000 buying art from other artists struggling due to the pandemic. Read more on the amazing Guy at http://philochestudios.com.


8. "I am a voice for women who feel like they're alone in these situations. This project came from emotion, and that's what I want it to be about – not what I look like or who I'm with, but the raw emotion and support for women."

Who caught H.E.R. last night with her amazing rendition of "America the Beautiful"? Born Gabriella Wilson, she goes by Gabi or her stage name H.E.R., an acronym that stands for Having Everything Revealed. She's been singing and performing since childhood and signed her first record deal with Sony at 14 under her real name. She re-emerged in 2016 under the persona H.E.R. and received critical acclaim even though her image remained a mystery to fans. Now out and about, H.E.R. has two praised albums, has already won two Grammys, and is nominated for three more this year. You can read hear and read more about H.E.R. at her site https://damage.her-official.com.


9. "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera."

Today we're celebrating the amazing and undeniable Gordon Parks. Photographer, composer, author and filmmaker, Gordon was a humanitarian at heart and deeply committed to social justice. His body of work spans from the 1940s to 2000s. He is the first of many things: In 1969 he became the first African American to write and direct a major Hollywood studio feature film, "The Learning Tree," based on his bestselling semi autobiographical novel. He also was the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life Magazine. Gordon's iconic photographs continue to resonate as he showcased disparities based on race and poverty. See more and hear more from Gordon at www.gordonparksfoundation.org.


10. Today we're getting jazzy about Melba Liston! Melba was born in 1926 and was a music prodigy. By the age of 16 she was playing professionally and was the first woman trombonist to play in big bands during the 1940s and 1960s aside from all female bands. She played with talents including Gerald Wilson, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and more. Melba backed Billie Holliday on tour but became so disillusioned with the racism and treatment from male musicians that she gave up the trombone entirely for a period. As her career progressed she became best known for her arranging and composing, especially in partnership with Randy West. In 1985 she had a stroke which effectively ended her playing career but she continued composing and arranging by learning computer technology until her death in 1999. Her career helped pave the way for women in jazz roles other than vocalists.


11. Today we're celebrating the bright and bold Cita Sadeli also known as MISS CHELOVE. Cita is a DC-based art director, muralist, designer and illustrator whose murals can be seen throughout the city. From her website https://chelove.com:

MISS CHELOVE’s work reflects her multicultural background rooted in the tropical mysticism of Java, Indonesia and formative years growing up in the punk, go-go, and graffiti-fueled streets of 80’s/90’s Washington DC. 

MISS CHELOVE combines local and biographical storytelling with tools and methods of graffiti and street art. Common themes include: powerful women of color, nature, indigenous cultures, vibrant fashion/music/street subcultures, and issues affecting society and the environment.

MISS CHELOVE’s practice is currently focused on mural projects throughout the world. When not scaling walls, she collaborates with clients like the Smithsonian Institution, Apple, Afro-Punk, Adobe, Patagonia, &Pizza, and Trillectro. 


12. “There is no one way to tell the story of slavery or to chronicle the black experience. It is not that slavery and struggle narratives shouldn’t be shared but that these narratives are not enough anymore.” —from “Beyond the Struggle Narrative”

We're honoring the literary genius of Roxane Gay today! An American writer, professor, editor, and social commentator, she has written such works as "Bad Feminist," "Ayinti," "An Untamed State," "Difficult Woman," and her memoir "Hunger." Roxane has taught at Eastern Illinois, Perdue, and Yale Universities and is also a New York Times Contributing Op-Ed Writer, covering the intersections of identity and culture. Roxane speaks truth to power, especially around the topics of violence, trauma, systemic racism, and sexism. While her words might not always be easy to read, her writing lights a fire and renews a dedication to her audience to fight for the rights of all women and more. For more info on Roxane, visit https://roxanegay.com.


13. Redlining is the systematic practice of housing discrimination beginning in the 1930s when the Federal Housing Administration denied mortgages to prospective homeowners. These red lines drawn by banks and government officials on housing maps designated African American or Latinx neighborhoods and singled them out as “undesirable” for investment. Redlining prevented residents from building wealth on the basis of race, religion, and immigration status/ (from Birmingham Museum of Art exhibit REDLINE).

Celestia Morgan is a Birmingham, Alabama based artist who works across several artistic mediums, incorporating sculpture, map making, and community engagement into her photography and video work to explore systemic racism through racial zoning practices, and environmental injustice. Photographs from her solo exhibition REDLINE at the Birmingham Museum of Art in 2019-2020 have also been included in exhibitions at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago, Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis, the Mobile (Ala.) Museum of Art and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and have been written about or published in the New York Times, Lenscratch, Bitter Southerner and Burnaway, among others. For more info on Celestia, visit www.celestiamorgan.com


14. It's love day and we're celebrating the queen of love ballads, the undeniable Whitney Houston. Whitney was an American singer and actress and is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. She is the only artist to have seven consecutive number-one singles on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, from "Saving All My Love for You" in 1985 to "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" in 1988. Her smash hit "I Will Always Love You" won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and became the best-selling physical single by a female in music history. So celebrate love and life with a little Whitney! 


15. "I don't believe there's a such a thing as 'black art,' though there's certainly been a black experience. I've lived it. But it's also an American experience." 

Charles Henry Alston was an influential Harlem Renaissance painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher. He served as the first African American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. He also achieved success as a sculptor and in 1990, his bust of Martin Luther King Jr. became the first image of an African American displayed at the White House. His popular cartoons and illustrations were published in magazines such as The New Yorker and Fortune. During World War II, he worked at the Office of War Information and Public Information, creating cartoons and posters to mobilize the black community to join in the American war effort. Charles Alston was passionately dedicated to empowering African Americans through cultural enrichment and artistic advancement.


16. “Acknowledging the performative aspects of race and Southernness, I committed myself to exploring the interiority of Black Americans. I wanted to create unseen narratives.”

Amy Sherald is a native Georgian painter who now resides in Baltimore, MD. Her portrait style is simplified realism, displaying bold and vibrant subjects and backgrounds. Amy's style invites the viewer to explore a new narrative around race and identity and pushes black heritage to the forefront of American art.  Michelle Obama chose Amy to paint her official portrait which was released in 2018. For more on Amy, please visit www.amysherald.com


17. "It's terrible but you know I just love the sound of my own voice."

And what a voice it is! Soprano Leontyne Price was born Mary Violet Leontine Price on February 10, 1927 in Laurel, Mississippi and remains one of the most popular classical singers ever. Leontyne studied at Julliard School of Music and then went on to receive international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s touring worldwide in the production of Porgy & Bess. She was the first African American to become a leading performer at the Metropolitan Opera. Her debut performance ended in a 42-minute ovation, one of the longest in the Met's history. Leontyne continued performing until 1997 and has won many honors and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the National Medal of Arts (1985), numerous honorary degrees, and 19 Grammy Awards for operatic and song recitals and full operas, a Lifetime Achievement Award and more.


18. 

Now

Woman power

is

Black power

is

Human power

is

always feeling my heart beats

as my eyes open

as my hands move

as my mouth speaks

I am

are you

Ready

- Audre Lorde 

Happy birthday to the amazing Audre Lorde, the self described "Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet" who dedicated her life to addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia.


19. All the praise to the amazing Toni Morrison (a day late of her birthday!), an American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Toni penned 11 books, as well as children's books and essays. She was the queen of many "firsts" and accolades, becoming the first Black female editor in fiction at Random House and the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She was awarded the the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2016. Her writings extensively explore Black identity, particularly the oppressive burden carried by Black women. For more info on Toni, visit https://www.tonimorrisonsociety.org


20. “Human behavior is so murky and violent and messed-up and inappropriate. And I think my work draws on that. It comes from there. It comes from responding to situations like that, and it pulls it out of an audience.”

Kara Walker is an amazing and powerful American installation artist who uses intricate cut-paper silhouettes in combination with collage, drawing, painting, performance, film, video, light projection, puppetry, and more to comment on power, race, and gender relations. She received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991, and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Kara has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe and was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 1997. She currently lives in New York, where she is on the faculty at Columbia University. For more info on Kara, visit www.karawalkerstudio.com.


21. Nia is drawn to writing and directing stories “about the in-between spaces of society… about women who are unconventional to the point of being dangerous, whether that’s physically dangerous, or that people think they’re dangerous because they operate or exist differently.”  

Nia DaCosta is quickly making a name for herself as a director and screenwriter. She wrote and directed the film "Little Woods" in 2019, winning the Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. She also directed the upcoming Jordan Peele written and produced "Candyman" coming out in summer 2021. Recently it was announced that DaCosta would direct the upcoming sequel to "Captain Marvel," becoming the first Black woman and the youngest filmmaker to direct a Marvel film. You can learn more about Nia at www.niadacosta.com.


22. “I’m for anything that feels right and is in harmony in the universe.”

Today we're featuring the "godmother of soul” Erykah Badu. Singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress, Erykah first emerged in 1997 as part of the “neo-soul” scene. Her debut album "Baduizm" became an instant classic, selling more than 3 million copies and winning two Grammys. She recorded four more successful albums and has won numerous accolades. Though controversial at times, Erykah's influence is profound as she continues to perform, most recently with her innovative "Quarantine Concert Series." For more info on Erykah, visit www.facebook.com/erykahbadu.


23. "I was brought up to acknowledge the presence of people who work with you. Probably, all this is reflected in my work and in the people who catch my interest as subjects.”

Jordan Casteel was born in 1989 in Denver, Colorado and is a figurative painter whose work explores humanity, sexuality, identity, and subjectivity. Her larger than life works are based on the photographs she takes, consciously featuring those who might not otherwise be portrayed on museum walls. Jordan has exhibited worldwide and currently teaches at Rutger University - Newark. She's also a featured artist in the new HBO documentary "Black Art: In the Absence of Light." For more info on Jordan, please visit www.jordancasteel.com.


24. All hail the amazing Debbie Allen, actress, choreographer, dancer, singer-songwriter, director, producer, #ALLthethings. After her first bit of stardom in 1979 in Alex Haley's "Roots: The Next Generation," Debbie quickly rose to fame in 1980 when she starred on Broadway as Anita in "West Side Story." This landed her the infamous role in "Fame" and she quickly became a household name! "Fame" the movie and award winning television spinoff, is accredited with launching a dance fad across America. One that continues today with Debbie at the helm!

Debbie is also a successful director and producer and her work includes most episodes of "A Different World" and over 50 television and film productions. She opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, CA where she inspires young dancers to this day.


25. "I don't think about art while I work. I think about life."

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a poet, musician, and graffiti prodigy in late-1970s New York. He first achieved fame as part of SAMO, a graffiti duo who wrote epigrams around the city. By the time he was 20, Jean-Michel was a noted artist whose neo-expressionist paintings were being exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. His signature painting style consisted of scribbling, symbols, and mask-and-skull imagery that appropriated poetry, drawing, painting, and more. Jean-Michel's work focused on his experiences in the black community, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism. Since his untimely death at the age of 27 in 1988, his work has steadily increased in value (his "Untitled" painting sold in 2017 for $110 million becoming one of the most expensive paintings purchased). For more info on Jean-Michel, visit http://basquiat.com.


26. " For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it."

It's Friday and we're feeling inspired by the incredible Amanda Gorman, American poet and activist. Born in 1998, Amanda is the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. She's also the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history and has received numerous awards and praise from #allthepeople. Amanda published her first book of poetry "The One for Whom Food is Not Enough" in 2015 and her upcoming children's book "Change Sings" and "The Hill We Climb and Other Poems" have already achieved best-seller status despite not being out yet! Amanda's work focuses on race, feminism, oppression, and more. You can learn more about Amanda at www.theamandagorman.com.


27. "Creativity helps us realize that we don't have to understand everything. We can enjoy something - feel it and use it - without ever fully comprehending it."

The beloved Faith Ringgold is a painter, sculptor, speaker, performance artist, and writer. She began her career as an art teacher in New York City Public schools in the 1950s. By the late 1960s, she was embracing her role as an artist and activist, painting political posters and demonstrating against the exclusion of black and female artists in New York museums and art society. Faith worked in collaboration with her mother Willi to make elaborate hooded masks inspired by African tribal costumes, eventually transitioning to her infamous narrative quilts. Faith's works continue to be exhibited around the world. For more info on Faith, please visit www.faithringgold.com


28. “Women have been held back and limited throughout the centuries. Creation could not have been rendered, not even considered, let alone be brought into manifestation without woman. She is principal, a powerful energy. She is first.”

We're rounding out our celebration of Black artists and sliding into March's Women's History Month with the music and works of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda. Alice was a jazz musician and composer, especially gifted in piano and one of the few harpists in the jazz world. After growing up in a musical family, she performed throughout the 60s and 70s as a professional musician and in a variety of duos and trios. After the death of her husband John Coltrane in 1967, Alice went through a period of trial and spiritualness, abandoning her secular life and becoming a swamini. She continued to make music, incorporating chants and meditations in her work. She died in 2007 at the age of 69. For more Alice fabulousness, visit www.alicecoltrane.com

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