Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) – Resistance fighter, Civil Rights activist, writer…
And yes a dancer too!
I’ve visited the Chateau des Milandes on the Dordogne River in France twice now. It is in a spectacular setting on a cliff side of the meandering Dordogne. It was the home of the cabaret dancer Josephine Baker, and the glamorous dresses and memorabilia from her career during the 20s and 30s in Paris attract many thousands of visitors. They are displayed on the lower floors of the Chateau. The beautiful chateau has numerous lavish bedrooms with splendid bathrooms that were installed after Josephine Baker lived there, and began to adopt orphans of many nationalities. But, like me, many of these tourists are unaware of her other achievements. They overshadow her dancing career and display her courage, bravery and moral integrity. The real story of Josephine Baker can be discovered on the top floor of the chateau. Continue reading Josephine Baker
A relative mentioned in passing that we may be related to the internationally famous, classically trained Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell – I had no idea of this. A further call to my relative revealed she had kept a newspaper cutting from 1954 and I was astonished to learn that Winifred’s hands were insured for £40,000 in the 1950s! Winifred was an international celebrity, known in households at home with Stephen Bourne citing her as a’folk hero for the British working classes.’ (Bourne 2001). My relative also told me that Elton John named one of his touring piano’s after Winifred and looking further I see that Elton names Winifred as one of his most early influences. Continue reading Winifred Atwell
The Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the artistic, literary and intellectual movement within a tumultuous period of racial change in post-war United States. Also named ‘The New Negro Movement’, this cultural explosion drew black writers, photographers, artists, poets and scholars together to forge a new black cultural identity throughout the 1920s and 30s. Although critic and lecturer, Alan Locke (1926), described the transformation from “social disillusionment to race pride”, the women of the Harlem Renaissance had to face double prejudice of both race and sex.
Continue reading Loïs Mailou Jones
Delia Derbyshire was a pioneer in electronic music who created one of the most well known TV theme tunes of all time.
Delia was born in Coventry in 1937, only two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. When the war began the government encouraged parents of young children like Delia to send them away to the relative safety of the countryside, however many chose not to. Initially, Delia’s parents were amongst them. She stayed in Coventry and lived through the famous Coventry Blitz, which razed the city to the ground. The sound of the air raid siren sounded night after night made a lasting impact on Delia, in her later life she reflected: Continue reading Delia Derbyshire
Lois Weber was early Hollywood’s original shero. In a career that spanned almost three decades at the beginning of moviemaking, Weber wrote and directed more than 40 features and over 100 shorts. She was the first woman to direct a feature film in the US –The Merchant of Venice in 1914, the first woman admitted to the Motion Picture Directors’ Association in 1916, and in 1917 she became the first woman to run a Hollywood studio.
In her time Weber was considered one of the three “great minds” in early film-making, alongside D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. While her male peers have long been celebrated as the fathers of American cinema, Weber has been largely forgotten. Continue reading Lois Weber, Hollywood Shero
Margaret Morris was a prolific dancer, choreographer, artist and the founder of the international Margaret Morris Movement (MMM). Today, very few people know about the Margaret Morris Movement and fewer still are aware of who Margaret Morris was. But in its hay day, the MMM was widely known, with a series of schools across the world. And during Margaret Morris’s lifetime, she was celebrated as a pioneer in the field of movement, dance and physical culture. Continue reading Margaret Morris, Pioneer of Movement
Margaret Elizabeth More was born in Harlech on June 26th 1903, to parents William Henry More and Alice. She had much older siblings, Constance, Jack, Frank, Evelyn and eventually a younger brother, George. The family home was Crown Lodge, in Harlech on the rugged Welsh Coast. Margaret was a great deal younger than the next eldest sister Evelyn, and was undoubtedly an unplanned child. As the girls did not attend school, they instead had a governess, with whom Margaret studied music. Margaret was a natural rebel, and the boredom of life away from a big city necessitated that the siblings created their own entertainment.
Continue reading Margaret More
Sappho was the original female singer-songwriter, an Ancient Greek Carol King or Joni Mitchell, whose songs were so memorable that people were still writing about them and passing them on centuries later.
Today her name is synonymous with lesbianism – indeed the very word ‘Lesbian’ comes from the name of the island where Sappho lived, Lesbos – due to the many lines of her poetry where she expresses strong, and sometimes sexual, feelings for other women. But there was more to Sappho than just her interest in women. Continue reading Sappho
Dorothy Howell was an exceptional British musician, who composed over 130 pieces during her lifetime.
Dorothy was born in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1898. Her five siblings were all musical, and their father, an ironmaster by trade, was a self-taught pianist, who became the Musical Director at their local church. Dorothy’s mother was also musical, an accomplished violinist & soprano. The family used to spend time singing and playing together.
By the age of 13 Dorothy was already composing pieces. She wrote a set of six pieces for piano that were inspired by the popular Tales of Beatrix Potter. Dorothy studied at a number of convent schools in Birmingham, Belgium & London, but at the age of just 15, with promising musical abilities, she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM). There she was taught by great composers and pianists including Tobias Matthay and Sir J B McEwen. Continue reading Dorothy Howell
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is one of Mexico’s greatest artists. Born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in Coyocoán, Mexico City to a Mexican mother and German father, her early life was spent in Casa Azul (the Blue House) which today houses a museum dedicated to her life and work. She was influenced by indigenous Mexican culture as well as religious and political themes, and is most famous for her self-portraits. she once said, “I paint my own reality”. Continue reading Frida Kahlo