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Black Facts for October 28th

1931 - Still, William Grant (1895-1978)

Considered by many as the dean of African American composers,William Grant Still, the son of educators, was born in Woodville, Mississippi onMay 11, 1895.  His father, a musician whoonce taught music at Alabama A&M College,died when he was an infant; his mother, a schoolteacher, moved to Little Rock, Arkansas.  Those nearest to him encouraged his early fascinationwith music and musical instruments, particularly the violin.  At age 17 his stepfather, a railway office worker,introduced him to opera via a record and phonograph, which for him was a transformativeexperience.  At M.W. Gibbs High School inLittle Rock, Still was senior class valedictorian.  Though he entered Wilberforce College in Ohioat age 16 as a pre-med student, he taught himself to play several instruments andcomposed his own musical pieces which were performed by the school band, which heconducted, and a string quartet he assembled and participated in as cellist.  Close to graduation, Still dropped out of Wilberforceto pursue a career as a musician but later studied music at the Oberlin Conservatoryin 1917 and again in 1919 after a year in the Navy.

Still veered from classical music into the popular music of the era derived fromblack culture—namely ragtime, jazz, and blues—and for a while toured with the legendarybandleader W.C. Handy, arranging someof Handy’s hits like “St. Louis Blues.”  Bythe early 1920s Still was in New York Citywriting musical arrangements for the theater, working as musical director of Black Swan Record Company, and, with a rekindledinterest in classical music, he took composition lessons from George Chadwick andEdgard Varese.

On October 28, 1931, Still’s best known composition, Afro-American Symphony, infused with black musical signatures, was performedby the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Howard Hanson, thus becomingthe first work of its kind by a black to be performed by a major symphony orchestra.  Numerous successes in both classical and popularmusic continued into the 1960s, among them his direction of

1969 - Ben Harper

Ben Harper is an American musician, known for his success as an artist, instrumental skills and social activism. He was born on October 28, 1969 as Benjamin Chase Harper to Leonard and Ellen-Chase Verdries in Pomona, California. His father was African American and his mother was Jewish. He came from a musical family which influenced him throughout his life. His father was a percussionist, his mother was a guitarist and singer and his maternal grandparents established a music store by the name of “The Folk Music Center and Museum”. Harper learned to play guitar at an early age and was initially attracted to hip-hop but soon turned to blues music in grand family tradition. As a child, Harper attended a concert by reggae legend Bob Marley which helped to define his tastes to a great extent.

Harper had his first stage appearance at the age of 12 and soon began to play the slide guitar in the style of American blues singer Robert Johnson. He then toured with Grammy Award winning blues musician Taj Mahal, and appeared on his 1990 album “Follow the Drinking Gourd”. Another collaboration in 1992, this time with Tom Freund, led to the 1992 album “Pleasure and Pain”. Harper’s own debut album was released in 1994, after he secured a record deal with Virgin Records. It was titled “Welcome to the Cruel World” and was followed by his second album “Fight For Your Mind” in 1995.

Harper was known for his socially conscious music. For instance, his first album “Welcome to the Cruel World” featured a track called “Like A King” which was a reference to both, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rondey King, who was beaten up by the police in a racially motivated incident. Another song on the album, “I Rise” had lyrics adapted from renowned African American author Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”. His second album also contained socio-political messages and he often spoke against issues like racial prejudice. He also participated in the “Vote For Change” concert in 2004 to motivate people to vote in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Elections. He

1918 - Bouchet, Edward Alexander (1852-1918)

Edward Alexander Bouchet was born on September 15, 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut to William Francis and Susan Cooley Bouchet. Edward attended the segregated primary school in New Haven and later finished his secondary education at Hopkins Grammar School in 1870. An outstanding student, Edward’s academic accomplishments included serving as the valedictorian of his high school class.

The Bouchet family was quite prominent in New Haven’s small African American community. In addition to holding the position of deacon in the church, William Francis Bouchet was also employed at Yale College as a janitor and Susan did the laundry of Yale students. Well aware of Edward’s talent and scholarly ability, William and Susan had hoped their son would one day join the ranks of the Yale College student body. The fulfillment of this aspiration would be no small feat given the fact that no African American had ever attended Yale.

Consequently when he was admitted in 1870, Edward Bouchet became the first to break the “color line” at Yale College. Bouchet tackled a very challenging curriculum with courses in German, French, Greek and Latin. However, his main interests were in the sciences and mathematics. Bouchet took classes in mechanics, physics, and astronomy and earned in his first year the GPA of 3.36. Bouchet especially excelled in mathematics with a grade point average of 3.52, and received summa cum laude honors in all of his undergraduate studies upon graduation in 1874, sixth in his class. He was the first African American elected into the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, but his induction was delayed because Yales chapter was inactive for a number of years. By the time he was inducted in 1884, another African American, George Washington Henderson of the University of Vermont, had preceded him into the society.

Bouchet entered graduate school at Yale in 1874 and gained his doctorate in physics in just two years (1876). Although Bouchet was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from an institution in the

1908 - Louisville Western Branch Library (1905- )

The Louisville Western Branch Library in Louisville, Kentucky, first opened in 1905. This library was the first public library in the nation to serve and be fully operated by black residents. In 1905 virtually all other public libraries around the country were closed to African Americans.

In 1902 the Louisville City Council passed an ordinance that created a public library system, but it specifically excluded African American residents. The city’s black residents immediately challenged this exclusion. Albert E. Meyzeek, local educator and civil rights activist, urged the community as well as the city’s library committee to allow the black citizens of the community to be able to access and use the new library system. By the time the library system was about to open in 1904, the city’s library system master plan now indicated that there would be a branch for African American citizens, fully funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The Carnegie Building, located on the Southwest corner of 10th and Chestnut Streets (604 S 10th St.) did not open until October 28, 1908. During the three years of planning and construction of the new library, the branch occupied three rooms of a private residence at 1125 West Chestnut Street, in the heart of Louisville’s mainly black neighborhood.

When the Louisville Western Branch Library was close to opening, Thomas Fountain Blue was chosen as the branch librarian. Blue received an education at the Virginia Union University as a theologian, but he was asked to run the new library. Blue, the first African American to head a public library in the United States, upon assuming the post immediately created a community outreach strategy. He said the library was much more than a place to store books. “With its reading and study rooms, its lecture and classrooms,” according to the branch librarian, “it forms a center from which radiate many influences for general betterment. The people feel that the library belongs to them, and that it may be used for anything that makes for their welfare.”

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