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Black Facts for March 8th

1954 - Dobbs, Mattiwilda (1925- )

Mattiwilda Dobbs, an accomplished opera star, was born July 11, 1925 in Atlanta, Georgia. Although she was the fifth of six daughters and her father worked as a mail clerk, he was able to provide her and all of her sisters with a college education.  Dobbs began singing and playing the piano as a child. As a young adult, she studied voice under Naomi Maise while attending Spelman College. She graduated in 1946 as valedictorian, then moved to New York to study music under Mme. Lotte Leonard; she also enrolled at Columbus University, where she earned an M.A. in Spanish in 1950. While in school she received several musical scholarships, and after graduating in 1950 she went to Paris on a two year fellowship to study with Pierre Viernac. In 1951 she won first prize at the Geneva Competition in Switzerland.

In 1952, Dobbs began her professional career with appearances as Stravinsky’s Nightingale at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam. She also performed several other prestigious leading roles between 1952 and 1954 including the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Genoa, Zerbinetta in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos at the Glyndebounce Opera Festival, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Olympia in The Tales of Hoffman at the Royal Opera House in London, as well as the Queen of Shemakhan in Le Coq d’Or. For this last performance, she was awarded the Swedish Order of the North Star by King Gustav VI.

Dobbs sang the role of Zerbinetta again in her first appearance in the United States at New York’s Town Hall on March 8, 1954 and received great critical acclaim. Throughout her career, she received praise for her exceptional range and skill at interpreting her roles, as well as her pioneering appearances as the first black singer to sing at La Scala and the first black soprano to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, where she appeared as Gilda in 1956.

After her appearance in New York, Dobbs embarked on an around the world tour that included cities in the United States, Australia, and Europe. She also produced several recordings,

1971 - Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier was a professional boxer and former World Heavyweight Champion. He was born on January 12, 1944 and was the youngest of several children. His parents were farmers and lived in Beaufort, South Carolina. They lived in relative poverty and Joe had to work as a farmhand from a very early age. He had a strong build and was interested in boxing from his childhood, when he first watched fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Willie Pep and Rocky Graziano on the family’s black and white television. He used to work at a meat packing factory and would often punch the hanging animal carcasses to practice his punches. A scene inspired by this incident is shot in the film “Rocky” starring Sylvester Stallone. In 1959, at the age of 15, Frazier left home to go to New York to live with his elder brother and his family.

Frazier began boxing in 1961 under the training of Yank Durham. Durham helped the young Frazier to hone his technique and perfect his punches. During his amateur boxing career, he won three consecutive Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championships in 1962, 1963 and 1964. His only loss during his amateur career was to Buster Mathis, who also beat him in the final round of the U.S. Olympic Trials held at the World Fair in New York in 1964. However, his coach persuaded him to attend the Olympics nevertheless which proved to be extremely fruitful as Mathis became injured and Frazier took over for him. Despite injuring his thumb in the semi final fight, he ended up winning Olympic Gold.

He turned professional in 1965 and in just a year’s time, built up an impressive record of 11 victories to 0 losses. When Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, the title was up for grabs. The match for the title was held in 1970 between Jimmy Ellis and Frazier at Madison Square Garden. Frazier defeated Ellis in 4 rounds to become the World Champion. He defended his title against World Light Heavyweight Champion Bob Foster in Detroit. He then fought Muhammad Ali, who

1921 - King, Marjorie Edwina Pitter (1921-1996)

Marjorie Edwina Pitter King, the youngest of the Pitter sisters, was born March 8, 1921, to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter, in Seattle, Washington. When she graduated from Garfield High School, she joined her sisters at the University of Washington to study for an accounting degree in the College of Economics and Business. Like her father, she had a passion for numbers, business and the value of a dollar. So, to help the family with college expenses for her and her sisters, she came up with an entrepreneurial venture called “Tres Hermanas,” or “Three Sisters.” Together they earned money by typing, printing and writing speeches to help pay for their books, tuition and the like. Aside from having fun with her sisters, she enjoyed herself at the University. She worked for a sociology professor who counseled students in and outside of his discipline, including Pitter (later King). According to her, he always seemed to have a receptive ear for her concerns and tried to advise her as best he could, knowing little about her major. Commercial Law, Anthropology and Statistics were her three most enjoyable courses, because of the creative manner in which they were taught—interactive, with a team approach.

However, Marjorie Pitter King experienced difficult, hurtful moments as well. Frequently she was on academic probation because of low grades. Since few women of any race studied accounting during the Great Depression, her experiences may have been related to sexism, too. She was called unkind names and often ignored by her professors during her stay there. In 1942, she transferred in her senior year to Howard University in Washington, D.C. to complete her graduation requirements. Later she returned to Seattle and established a successful tax business called M and M Tax and Consultant Services. Extremely active in politics, she was appointed to the State Legislature in 1965, becoming the first African American in that body.  King served until 1966. She served as Chair of the 37th District Democratic Party,