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Archive for the ‘black women’ Category

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919), an American businesswoman, was the first self-made Black American millionaire – and the first American woman too of any race according to the “Guinness Book of World Records”. She sold hair care products to black women, most notably the hot comb, which made straightened hair common among black women in the early 1900s.

She did not invent the hot comb. It had been invented in Paris in the 1800s at a time when Egyptian hairstyles were in fashion. Sears was already selling them to white women in America in the 1880s. But it was Walker who sold them to black women as an easy way to straighten their hair (though even she first used it to help hair grow rather than to straighten it).

She was born Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana, across the river from Vicksburg, two years after the slaves were freed. Times were hard: yellow fever killed her parents, the Klan burned down her school, by age ten she was working picking cotton, by age 20 her husband was dead and she had a baby girl to take care of (A’Lelia Walker, who later became a figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s).

She moved to St Louis where her brother lived and worked as a washerwoman. As little money as she made, she still saved some of it to give her daughter the education she never had.

Then her hair began falling out. She tried all kinds of hair care products to make her hair grow back, but none of them worked. Some of them even made it worse!

In 1904 at the St Louis world’s fair she saw Margaret Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington. Her hair was so thick and healthy! She wanted hair just like that.

That night she prayed, asking God to stop her hair from falling out. Then she had a dream: she was in Africa and a man was showing her the things she needed to make something that would help her hair to grow back.

That is how she tells it. Some say she had a pharmacist tell her what was in the hair grower of Annie Malone, a forerunner of Walker’s. At the time Walker was selling Malone’s hair care products door to door. She later modelled her company on Malone’s. (Some say Malone was the first black millionaire.)

In any case she moved to Denver soon after her brother died to be near his family. She spent nights working on her hair growing formula until she got it right. It came out in 1905. She called it Wonderful Hair Grower. It proved to be such a hit that other products soon followed and she started hiring saleswomen, training them in the  use of her products.

The rest is history: in time she built a factory in Indianapolis and moved to Harlem.

Her name comes from her third husband, newspaperman Charles J. Walker, her husband at the time she went into business.

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Solange, 2016.

Solange Knowles (1986- ) is an American R&B singer best known as the little sister of picture-perfect Beyonce. She has had three number one hits on the American dance charts:

Beyonce's sister gets attacked

2008: I Decided

Solange - Sandcastle Disco [Official Video]

2008: Sandcastle Disco

Solange T O N Y a Msica video

2009: T.O.N.Y.

The last two she wrote with Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley. All three songs are from her second album, “Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams” (2008). Like Raphael Saadiq, her music sounds like it is from the 1960s but made now –  neo-Motown sort of stuff. Partly because she loves old soul music and partly, no doubt, because she is desperately trying not to sound like her sister! Her first album, “Solo Star” (2003), was all over the place in terms of musical style. Hadley Street is the street in Houston, Texas where her father’s record company stands and where she recorded the album.

She was never one of the main members of Destiny’s Child, though she has been a dancer and backing singer for them and one time did fill in for Kelly Rowland. When she was 15 she travelled the world with them as a dancer. After that her father thought she was old enough to handle a recording contract. Out of that came “Solo Star”.

“Solo Star” did not do well. She went into acting and landed parts in two films: she played the daughter of Vanessa Williams and Cedric the Entertainer in “Johnson Family Vacation” (2004) and then the head black cheerleader in “Bring It On: All or Nothing” (2006), the third film in that series.

In 2004 she married a football player, Daniel Smith. They had a son later that year, Daniel Julez J. Smith, and moved to the mountains of Idaho. In 2007 they divorced. Solange moved to Hollywood with her son.

Up to this point she had taken whatever opportunities came her way. They were great opportunities but she lacked inner direction. In Idaho it seems she got her head together and made up her mind to become a singer and songwriter, singing the kind of music she liked, not whatever producers like the Neptunes or Timbaland were pushing at her, making her sound like every other singer out there. She knew she liked Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and so on, and she started from there, writing songs. That was the beginning of what became “Hadley St. Dreams”.

In August 2009 she cut off her hair. It was a brave move but it seems to have worked out well: she looks better in short hair. It brings out the beauty of her face much more.

She made my list of women with the most beautiful lips, just ahead of Molly Ringwald.

As someone who hates how Beyonce is pushed so hard at us and as someone who is a second son, it is hard for me not to like Solange. But even apart from that I do like her music more (featured here twice so far).

I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows her! Yes, we are that tight.

– Abagond, 2010.

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Marie Laveau (c. 1801-1881), also written as Laveaux, was the most famous voodoo queen of New Orleans. She was at her height from the 1830s to the 1850s and has since become a figure of legend. There are at least eight songs about her, like “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” (1971) by Redbone. She even appears as a character in Marvel Comics (as a white witch in black latex). If you visit her grave and draw “XXX” on it with chalk you can make a wish.

She had a daughter of the same name who looked very much like her. She is known as Marie Laveau II, also a voodoo queen. It is hard to tell where the mother leaves off and the daughter begins. It seems likely the daughter took over in the 1860s.

As a voodoo queen Laveau healed the sick, told fortunes and sold gris-gris, a voodoo charm. For $10 you could buy a love powder. For up to $1000 she would use voodoo to help you win an election. She sported a snake.

Some say her power came less from voodoo or any kind of magic and more from knowing the right things about the right people: she was a hairdresser who worked for the wives of the top men in New Orleans. It seems likely she knew all about their love affairs and business deals – either from the wives themselves or from their servants.

It is hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins with her. In what seems to be the truest story a man came to her desperate because his son was about to be sentenced to death by a judge. He offered to give her a house. A few days later, to everyone’s surprise, the son got off.

She was Creole, one of the French-speaking people of New Orleans, and a quadroon too, meaning she was one-fourth black: her father was a white planter, her mother was half white and half black (and maybe part Native American too).  Laveau was a free person of colour: she could own property but could not marry a white person.

She married her first husband in 1819, Jacques Paris, a free person of colour who fled the slave uprisings in Haiti. He died a year later and she became a hairdresser known as Widow Paris. Her next husband was Christophe Glapion. Because he was white their marriage was a common law one. Some say she had 15 children, but others say that some of those  were her sister’s, also named Marie Laveau.

Laveau was a believing Catholic and even went to mass every day. It was common in those days for people to believe in both Catholicism and voodoo at the same time.

There were sightings of her after she died. Some may have been her daughter, but some took place even after she had died too. Laveau’s ghost is said to appear on St John’s Eve, June 23rd, wearing a handkerchief with seven knots.

– Abagond, 2010.

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My favourite pictures from Le Coil. Five of these pictures have already appeared elsewhere on my blogs.

Nina Keita, Ivorian model

India Arie, American singer

Angela Davis, American professor

Jessika M’Bengue, French model

Pharah Y, Swedish clothes designer

Solange, American singer

“Frame” by Dawn Okoro, American artist

Res, an American singer, with Talib Kweli

Valerie June, American singer

Cassandra Wilson, American singer

Tara (model) and Nydia (graduate student) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Vintage hairstyles

Naimah, writer from the Lower East Side in New York

Alexandria, make-up artist from Soho, New York

Pictures by Brianna McCarthy, who blogs at Passion Fruit

Photo by Adam Tilman-Young

Photo by Laurent PIRAM

Karine, model from Guadeloupe

Sharri in Soho, New York, who blogs at The Brisk Convergence

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Staceyann Chin (1971- ) is a slam poet from Jamaica who now lives in the country of Brooklyn in New York City. She travels the world performing and teaching poetry. Unlike most poets she has been on Oprah’s television show and has her own Blockbuster Online page.

I thought maybe she was just television-driven fluff, that she had no substance, but when she made me cry at her grandmother’s death – not mine but hers – then I knew she could write.

She was a slam poet before slam poets were in fashion, when it was still underground in New York. Like in Ancient Greece, slam poets perform their poetry for an audience with judges picking the winner. Their pieces generally run three minutes long and tell a story. A video of one of her pieces is at the end of this post.

She got into slam poetry almost by accident: one day she went to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The rest is history.

Her first published book is not of her poetry – she is not ready for that yet – but a  story in prose about her first 24 years: “The Other Side of Paradise” (2009).

She was born on Christmas day in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the unwanted daughter of a rich Chinese businessman and a poor black woman. Her mother left the country soon after and Chin was brought up by her grandmother, then in her sixties. Although unwanted by her mother, her grandmother loved her unconditionally. No one has ever loved her more. Because her grandmother could not read, Chin read the Bible to her, especially the psalms – a slam poet in training!

All that ended at age nine when her mother arrived from Canada, briefly, and put her with a great-aunt whose sons tried to force her into sex. She was shifted from house to house without a home, till age 16 when she went away to boarding school and then university – paid for by a Chinese businessman who denies he is her father.

At age 21 while at university she found out she was lesbian. She only told close friends: in Jamaica  you cannot live openly as a homosexual and expect to not be beaten up or, in the case of women, raped.

As much as she loved Jamaica, she had to leave: it would not allow her to live freely as a lesbian. So at age 24 she came to New York:

New York was my godsend. As soon as I landed, I knew I was in a place that welcomed misfits.

No one in New York cared if she kissed girls. She was free! Yet not free: she was black. In Jamaica, because of its colourism, she was favoured for her light skin. But in America she found herself at the bottom – for the very same skin, now seen as black. America may have been more enlightened about lesbians, but it was way less enlightened about black people.

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Angela Bassett in “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) in her most iconic scene.

 

Angela Bassett (1958- ), an American actress, is perhaps the best black female actress alive in Hollywood. She is both more beautiful and far more talented than Halle Berry, the only black woman so far to win an Oscar for best actress. Bassett has played Tina Turner, the wife of Malcolm X (twice) and the mother of Biggie Smalls.

Some of her films:

  • 1991: Boyz N the Hood
  • 1992: Malcolm X
  • 1993: What’s Love Got to Do with It
  • 1995: Waiting to Exhale (pictured above)
  • 1995: Strange Days
  • 1998: How Stella Got Her Groove Back
  • 2006: Akeelah and the Bee
  • 2008: Meet the Browns
  • 2009: Notorious

I already knew who she was by the time she appeared in “Malcolm X” but apparently it was playing Tina Turner a year later in “What’s Love Got to Do with It” that made her name with mainstream American audiences.

She lost the lead in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999) to Halle Berry. She turned down the lead in “Monster’s Ball” (2001) because of how it shows black women – and because she does not do nude scenes. Halle Berry took that part and went on to win an Oscar for best actress.

Angela Bassett was born on the very same day as Madonna: August 16th 1958. She was born in Harlem but her mother soon moved to St Petersburg, Florida, where she grew up in public housing.

In 1974 she saw James Earl Jones in “Of Mice and Men” on a school trip to Washington, DC:

I just sat there after the play, boo-hoo crying, weeping. I couldn’t move, and I remember thinking, “My gosh, if I could make somebody feel the way I feel right now!”

From that moment she began to think about becoming an actress.

She got a scholarship to Yale. After getting her degree in African American Studies, she studied acting at the Yale School of Drama. She had to unlearn her Southern accent. There she met Courtney B. Vance, whom she would one day marry.

After Yale she acted in some television ads, the soap opera “Guiding Light” and two August Wilson plays. Then her friend Larry Fishburne helped her to land a part in “Boyz N the Hood”. She played the mother of the main character – but to her she was playing her own mother. That got her noticed as a serious actress in Hollywood.

In 1993 she starred opposite Fishburne in “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, with her cast as Tina to his Ike. She broke her hand during shooting – but that only helped her to play Tina Turner even better. Tina Turner did her make-up and taught her the dance moves. One reviewer said that Bassett, “captures the erotic youthquake that was Tina Turner in the ’60s and early ’70s”.

In 1997 she married actor Courtney B. Vance. He played her husband when she appeared in the last season of “ER” (2008-2009). They have a boy and a girl: Slater and Bronwyn, both born in 2006 by means of a surrogate mother (Bassett was 47 at the time of their birth).

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Joanne Chesimard (1947- ), better known as Assata Shakur, is a black American revolutionary and former political prisoner. She now lives in political exile in Cuba. The FBI says she is a terrorist, “armed and extremely dangerous”, offering a million dollars for information leading to her arrest. Congress asked Cuba to turn her over. The New Jersey police asked the pope for help in getting her back. She is the aunt and godmother of Tupac Shakur.

In 1977 she was found guilty of first-degree murder for the 1973 shooting death of a policeman on the New Jersey Turnpike. She was broken out of prison in 1979 and, after five years of laying low, made her way to Cuba in 1984. Her autobiography, “Assata”, came out in 1987.

On May 2nd 1973 she and two friends of hers were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike when the police pulled them over. The police said it was for a broken tail light on their car, but more likely it was for driving while black. She was asked to put her hands up. She did but then was shot twice and then in the back. One of her friends tried to protect her. In the shoot out both her friend and one of the policemen were killed. Another policeman was wounded and so was her other friend.

Four years later an all-white jury found her guilty of murdering the policeman even though her hands were in the air (the only way her wounds make sense) and there was no proof she ever touched a gun.

With no hope of justice and fearing that she would be murdered in prison, she escaped and got to Cuba where she lives today. Fidel Castro himself said he will not give her up.

She had been on trial six times before on other charges, mainly bank robbery and murder, but none of the charges stuck. The government had no proof for any of it, not even for what they got her on in the end: they just wanted to keep her tied up in court and in prison.

In the 1970s the American government cracked down on black revolutionaries. The FBI used the police, the courts and, indirectly, the press. Some they killed outright, others they put in prison or tied up in the courts.

Shakur belongs to the Black Liberation Army, which broke off from the Black Panthers. She believes violence is necessary for blacks to become free and equal: it is the only way whites will give up enough power.

But she believes education is also necessary: guns will not do the trick if black people remain brainwashed, by the schools and by the news:

The schools we go to are reflections of the society that created them. Nobody is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them…I am convinced that a systematic program for political education, ranging from the simplest to the highest level, is imperative for any successful organization or movement for Black liberation in this country.

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