I don’t have a story about a particular person or event for today. Instead, I’m simply posting a few brief biographies of people that have played a roll in the African American story, beginning with LaVar Burton.
- LeVar Burton is an American German Born Actor, Director, Producer and Author. Burton is most famous for his roles in “Star Trek, The Next Generation”, and “Roots”, in which he played the main character, “Kunta Kinte”. Burton was also famous as the main host for PBS’s main children’s series, “Reading Rainbow”. Burton was born on this day in 1957.
- Famous jazz and blues singer, Bessie Smith cut her first record on this day in 1923. Her song, “Down Hearted Blues” went on to sell 800,000 copies for Columbia Records.
- Also born today in 1958 was Tracy Marrow, better known as Ice T is mostly celebrated for his rap songs concerning street life & violence. He has been an influential figure for the gangster rap genre. Highly controversial songs such as Cop Killer brought much fame to Ice T. He also pursued a career in acting, his most noteworthy character being that of a police officer on the show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
- James Baskett, the first male African American to win an Academy Award, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 16, 1904. After high school Baskett planned to study pharmacy, but after he was offered a small part in a show in Chicago, Illinois his career path was forever changed. Baskett continued to take small roles in Chicago plays for a time, but later he went to New York City, New York and joined the Lafayette Players Stock Company, where he stayed for many years.
Baskett first appeared on film in a feature role in Harlem is Heaven, and continued on in such films as Policy Man and Straight to Heaven. Baskett was not confined to film and theater; he also played Gabby Gibson, a slick-talking lawyer on the popular radio program Amos ‘n’ Andy.
Baskett is best remembered for his portrayal of Uncle Remus in Disney’s 1946 picture Song of the South. Baskett had actually only tested earlier for a minor role, but Disney remembered him and he was asked play as Uncle Remus. In 1947, after some lobbying by popular Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, Baskett was awarded a special Academy Award “for his able and heartwarming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world.” Yet, although the film was praised by the academy, Baskett and Disney both met with heavy criticism from many in the African American community who felt that the film was rife with racist undertones and that it encouraged harmful stereotypes. The debate over Song of the South continues, and due to this Disney has refused to release the film on home video in the United States. James Baskett passed away on July 9, 1948.