African American Ohioans in the Arts
|Topic||African American Ohioans in the Arts|
|Keyword(s)||Music; actress; playwright; poet; novelist; performing arts; African-American|
|Grade level(s)||Middle school to high school|
This primary source set will highlight four influential African American Ohioans in the arts: Art Tatum, a jazz pianist from Toledo, Ruby Dee, an actress and civil rights activist from Cleveland, Dorothy Dandridge, an actress, singer, and dancer from Cleveland, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, a poet from Dayton. This module will serve to provide background and contextual information of each artists’ accomplishments. Examples tie together sound recordings, photographs, newspaper articles, oral history, and more. Discussion questions and classroom exercises will combine works by these Ohioans with primary sources to explore issues of identity, opportunity, privilege, disability, professional opportunities, and representation.
Art Tatum Trio, Brunswick. Sound recording: I Got Rhythm; I Would Do Anything For You. 1943.
Art Tatum at the Piano
A black and white portrait taken around 1955 of jazz pianist Art Tatum. Known as “”Toledo’s Blind Pianist”” Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio and was considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of his time. Tatum died in 1956 at the age of 47. His life and music are still celebrated today. The photograph is a reproduction from a William Morris Agency photo
Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson
A copy of a black and white photograph taken around 1955 of musicians Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson laughing together. Known as “”Toledo’s Blind Pianist”” Art Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio and was considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of his time. Oscar Peterson was a Canadian jazz pianist and composer. It is said the Peterson was inspired by Tatum’s skill on the piano. Contributed by Toledo Lucas County Public Library.
Ceylon Observer, "Brubeck jazz magician is here"
From cattle ranch to concert hall, he came up the hard way. Brubeck jazz musician is here. (By an Observer reporter). Dave Brubeck, one of the greatest exponents of modern jazz music, was writing a letter home when I met him last evening at the Galle Face Hotel. He is a devout family man being the father of five children… Brubeck’s favorite pianist is Art Tatum and he says that modern Jazz owes a lot to George Shearing, Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton. Other members of this combo are Paul Desmond (alto sax) Joe Morello (drums) and Gene Wright (bass).
Central Avenue sounds oral history transcript : William Douglass
In this oral history, Douglass describes working with Art Tatum and the impact it had on his life. “Oh, Tatum was just great, just one of the greatest things that ever happened in my life. I not only recorded with him, I was his regular drummer. We worked together every night.”
Ruby Dee is a stage, screen and television actress. The Cleveland-born Dee was raised in Harlem by her father. She graduated from Hunter College. Among her notable acting roles, she starred in the movie, A Raisin in the Sun, in 1961, and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work in American Gangster (2007). Over the years, she appeared in productions in Cleveland at a number of venues, including the Hanna Theater, Karamu House, and Cleveland Playhouse, according to About.com. She has received three Emmys, a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor in 2004. She was married twice, the second time to actor Ossie Davis, until his death in 2005. Ruby Dee is also known for being an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. (Cleveland Public Library)
Dee, Ruby 1964
Ruby Dee (1924- ) is pictured with her husband Ossie Davis. The two actors were involved in readings at the Freedom Fund held by the Cleveland branch of the NAACP.
Dee, Ruby 1969
Ruby Dee (1924- ) is pictured with Julian Mayfield. The two helped write the movie, “Uptight,” which was filmed in Cleveland, and starred Dee.
Ruby Dee (at ironing board) in the stage production Raisin in the Sun
Martin Luther King Jr. rally at the Fieldston School: Ossie Davis speaking, Ruby Dee seated on right
From a series of photographs labeled “M.L. King Rally – Fieldston
Dorothy Dandridge (1923-1965) was an American actress and singer, and the first African-American to be nominated for an academy award for Best Actress. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and performed for a number of years with her sisters in the “Wonder Children,” an act created by her entertainer mother, Ruby. From the age of nine, Dorothy Dandridge was raised in Los Angeles. During her singing career, she had success as both a solo performer, and as a member of the Dandridge Sisters, and performed in a number of famous places, including the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater in New York City. She started to get smaller movie roles in the mid-1930s, and gained her first starring role in the 1953 film, “Bright Road.” The best actress nomination was for her part in Carmen Jones in 1954. Dandridge also appeared in the musical version of Carmen Jones, performing in Cleveland at the Palace in 1954, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Dandridge’s final major film role was as Bess in Porgy and Bess, but the movie wasn’t a critical success. She was married twice, divorcing her second husband in 1962. In 1963, she filed for bankruptcy. Dorothy Dandridge died of an embolism in 1965. (Cleveland Public Library)
Dandridge, Dorothy 1965
[News Script: Dorothy Dandridge]
Script from the WBAP-TV station in Fort Worth, Texas, covering a news story about singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge arriving in Fort Worth after visiting Havana.
Film poster advertising after World War II generally retained the photographic realism and unambitious designs of wartime messages. This poster, however, advertising Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones, an updated version of Bizet’s famous opera, stands out as an unusually successful example from the time period. The beautiful Dorothy Dandridge could both sing and act, and she became the first African American to win an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Unfortunately, what seemed to be the beginning of a stellar career was actually its climax, since good roles for black actresses were practically nonexistent in mainstream films. But every element of the poster for Carmen Jones-vivacious pose, life-size scale, ambiguous space, simplified color scheme, and jazzy lettering-adds to her glamour and promise.
A talented singer and actress with beauty to match, Dorothy Dandridge possessed all the attributes of a star. Teamed with her sister, she made her stage debut as a child and later performed with the popular singing trio known as the Dandridge Sisters. In the 1940s she launched her solo career as a nightclub entertainer and began pursuing work in motion pictures. After appearances in several minor films, Dandridge scored a triumph when she was cast as the title character in Carmen Jones (1954). Critically acclaimed for her performance, Dandridge became the first black performer in history to be nominated for an Academy Award in a leading role. Despite this stellar beginning, Dandridge spent the remainder of her career trying to overcome the entrenched racial bias that doomed her to secondary roles rather than showcasing her ability as a dramatic actress.
Film still for Carmen Jones
A black and white movie still for the 1954 film Carmen Jones. The photo depicts a man and a woman. The man in the photo is kneeling on his right knee supporting the reclining woman on his left arm as she lies on the ground. The man is wearing a dark hat and jacket with dark shoes. The woman on the ground is wearing a light colored dress and stares blankly past the man above her. Behind them are torn boxes and stacked Coca-Cola bottles. In the bottom right hand corner of the photo it reads “CJ-70” in white text. Below the photo is information about who the photo belongs to, the starring cast, and copyright information.
Love and sorrow
“Sung by Mr. David Bispham” “Song Cycle of Love and Sorrow for Barytone by Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Poem by Paul Lawernce Dunbar”–Cover; First page shows sepia photo of David Bispham published with signed note “My dear Mrs Bond: It is easy enough to write difficult music: the hard thing is to get at folks with simplicity nowadays, and that is what you do. With best wishes, truly yours,”–First page; Dedicated “To Mr. David Bipsham”; “A new song by Carrie Jacobs-Bond ‘The Birds’ Being sung by Mr. Chauncey Olcott”–Inside back cover; Back cover contains four excerpts “After vacation” “The Lure” “Morning and evening” “The free concert”. Above songs from new booklet entitled ‘Nine Songs’ by Carrie Jacobs-Bond”; The color represented in the digital image may differ significantly from the original and may not contain annotations. For annotation information, please contact Music Services.
Elma Lewis reads the poem "Sympathy" by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
In this clip Elma Lewis, Director of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, reads the poem “Sympathy” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar to a group of children and then asks them what they think the poem means. Overall the program is divided into two halves: the first featuring a 30-minute in-studio poetry reading by Elma Lewis, the second of magazine-style segments. Elma Lewis, Director of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, seated with children around her, talks about what poetry is, what a poem can make you feel, and why people used to write in rhymes. Lewis focuses on two African American poets, Langston Hughes (who is “of this time”) and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and reads selections from each. The second half contains the following segments: a mime performance by Halim Adbur Rashid (Fred Johnson) titled “The Writer,” “Access” (with A.D. Saunders, who describes the Boston Jazz Society), “The Word” (with professor and historian A.B. Spellman, who comments on Black History Week), the “Community Calendar,” “Information” (on Minority Recruitment Month for the Peace Corps), and “Commentary” by Producer Marita Rivero. Original air date estimated. Directed by Conrad White.
Autobiographical Sketch of Paul Laurence Dunbar
Autobiographical sketch written by Paul Laurence Dunbar to be enclosed with a letter to W. E. B. Du Bois. Speaks of Dunbar’s early publishing experience, working for the Chicago Record, Detroit Free Press, A. N. Kellogg Newspaper Co.; Dunbar began magazine work after the 1893 World Fair. Includes a list of published works. Signed, “I am not yet dead”.
This guide will serve to outline some possible ways to interact with the digital content and has suggestions to have students pull information from the examples listed above.
Discussion questions (Download)
- How do you think Art Tatum inspired later jazz artists?
- How did celebrities play a role in the civil rights movement? What current issues are important to you and how can you get involved?
- Did most of these artists stay in Ohio? Why or why not?
Classroom activities (Download)
- Read a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar and then sing (or listen to a recording) of a song based on the same poem. Ask students to reflect on what the poem may mean for them today from their perspective and point of view and how setting the poem to music changes what they get out of it.
- Discuss what it might have been like to be an African-American in the arts in the early to mid twentieth century. What challenges might these artists have faced? What were they able to accomplish? How does that compare to now?
- Watch clips from Carmen Jones and A Raisin in the Sun. How are these depictions of African-Americans different? How does that relate to the source material (a French opera and an American play)?