Month: October 2015

Dinah Washington: “Queen of The Blues” “Queen Of The JukeBox” “Queen of The Jam Sessions”

Dinah_Washington_1952

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Born: Ruth Lee Jones on August 29, 1924 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Parents: Ollie Jones and Alice Williams

Siblings: ?

Spouse(s): Married 7 times; see more at The Many Husbands of Dinah Washington

Dinahdick-lane
7th husband, Dick Lane (m. 1963–1963) Former Spouse
               6th husband, Raphael Campos (m. 1961-1962) 

Children: Robert Grayson and George Kenneth Jenkins

Dinah, George , and George, Jr.
                                        Dinah, George (2nd husband) , and George, Jr.

Education: Washington learned how to play piano at an early age and became a powerful gospel singer. She and her mother became popular attractions at local churches. Eventually, Washington was drawn to more secular music, and, when she was 15, she entered a talent contest at the Regal Theater. She won the contest and began splitting her time between church performances and club appearances.  – See more at: https://rockhall.com/inductees/dinah-washington/bio/#sthash.jmysVA98.dpuf

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Occupation: Blues singer primarily jazz vocalist; performed a wide variety of styles including R&B and traditional pop

Accomplishments, Achievements, and Contributions: From Wikipedia

Dinah Washington has been cited as “the most popular black female recording artist of the ’50s”.[1] Primarily a jazz vocalist, she performed and recorded in a wide variety of styles including blues, R&B, and traditional pop music,[1] and gave herself the title of “Queen of the Blues”.[2] She was a 1986 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame,[3] and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Washington’s achievements included appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival (1955–59), the Randalls Island Jazz Festival in New York City (1959), and the International Jazz Festival in Washington D.C. (1962), frequent gigs at Birdland (1958, 1961–62), and performances in 1963 with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Awards/Honors:

Grammy Award
Year Category Title Genre
1959 Best Rhythm & Blues Performance What a Difference a Day Makes R&B
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Grammy Hall of Fame

Recordings by Dinah Washington were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have “qualitative or historical significance.”[10]

Year Title Genre Label Year Inducted
1959 Unforgettable pop (single) Mercury 2001
1954 Teach Me Tonight R&B (single) Mercury 1999
1959 What a Diff’rence a Day Makes traditional pop (single) Mercury 1998
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame         

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed a song of Dinah Washington as one of the songs that shaped rock and roll.[11]

Year Title Genre
1953 “TV Is The Thing (This Year)” R&B
Honors and Inductions
  • Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington is a 1964 album recorded by Aretha Franklin as a tribute.
  • In 1993, the U.S. Post Office issued a Dinah Washington 29 cent commemorative postage stamp.
  • In 2005, the Board of Commissioners renamed a park, near where Washington had lived in Chicago in the 1950s, Dinah Washington Park in her honor.[12]
  • In 2008, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Washington’s birthplace, renamed the section of 30th Avenue between 15th Street and Kaulton Park “Dinah Washington Avenue.”[13]The unveiling ceremony for the new name took place on March 12, 2009, with Washington’s son Robert Grayson and three of her grandchildren, Tracy Jones, Tera Jones, and Bobby Hill Jr., in attendance.[14]
  • On August 29, 2013, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Washington’s birthplace, dedicated the old Allen Jemison Hardware building, on the northwest corner of Greensboro Avenue and 7th Street (620 Greensboro Avenue) as the newly renovated Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center.”[15]
Year Title Result Notes
1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inducted Early Influences
1984 Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame Inducted

Death: December 14, 1963 in Detroit, Michigan by accidental overdose of lethal combination of the drugs secobarbital and amobarbital

            Dick Lane Saying Good Bye To Wife  Dinah Washington, Jet Magazine January 2, 1964
 Dinah Washington’s sons, George and Bobby grieve for their mother.

For more see Done With Dinah: The Death and Funeral of Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington is Amy Winehouse’s IDOL.

I Salute this AMAZING Her-story making sista!

Sources

Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

Wikipedia

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Fredi Washington: The Actress Who Refused to “Pass”

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                                            FrediWashington

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Fredi as Peola in Imitation of Life (1939)

Fredi w/ actress Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life (1934)
Fredi w/ actress Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life (1934)

          

Born: Frederika Carolyn “Fredi” Washington on December 23, 1903 in Savannah, Georgia

Parents: Robert T. Washington, a postal worker and Harriet Walker Ward, a former dancer

Siblings: Fredi was the second of five children from her fathers’s first family with her mother. Her mother died when she was 11 years old; she helped raise her younger siblings Isabel, Rosebud, and Robert with the help of her grandmother who was called “Big Mamma.” Her father married a second time, but this wife died while pregnant. He married a third time and had four children with this wife. Fredi had a total of eight siblings from her father’s two families.

Fredi and her siblings; from left to right: Fredi, Alonso, Isabel, and Robert
Fredi and her siblings; from left to right: Fredi, Alonso, Isabel, and Robert
Fredi and sister Isabel in their elderly years
Fredi and sister Isabel in their elderly years
Fredi and Sister Isabel in Younger Years
Fredi and Sister Isabel in Younger Years

Spouse(s): Lawrence Brown (married 1933; divorced 1951) and Anthony Bell, DDS, a dentist (married 1952 until his death in 1970)

Fredi's first husband, Lawrence
Fredi’s first husband, Lawrence a trombonist
Fredi and her first husband,
Fredi and her second husband, Anthony
From Hue Magazine April 21, 1954
                                                                   From Hue Magazine April 21, 1954

Children: 0

Education: St. Elizabeth’s Convent School For Colored Girls in Conwells Heights, near Philadelphia, PA; graduated from Julia Richmond High School, New York City, NY

Occupation: Actress, Journalist, and Civil Rights Activist

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Accomplishments, Achievements, and Contributions: 

Fredi’s performing career began in 1921, when she got a chance to work in New York City, where she was living with her grandmother and aunt. She was a chorus girl in the hit Broadway musical Shuffle Along. She was hired by dancer Josephine Baker as a member of the “Happy Honeysuckles,” a cabaret group. [5] Baker also became a friend and mentor to her. [6] Washington’s friendship with Baker, as well as her talent as a performer, led to her being discovered by producer Lee Shubert. In 1926, Washington was recommended for a co-starring role on the Broadway stage with Paul Robeson in Black Boy.[7] She was very attractive, as well as a talented entertainer, and she easily moved up to become a popular featured dancer. She toured internationally with her dancing partner Al Moiret; they were especially popular in London.[4]

Fredi Washington turned to acting in the late 1920s. Her first movie role was in Black and Tan (1929), in which she played a dancer who was dying. She also had a small part inThe Emperor Jones (1933), based on a play by Eugene O’Neill and starring Paul Robeson.

Her best-known role was in the 1934 movie Imitation of Life; Washington played a young mulatto[1] who chose to pass as white to seek more opportunities in a society restricted by legal racial segregation in some states and social discrimination in others. As Washington had visible European ancestry, the role was considered perfect for her, but it led to her being typecast by filmmakers.[8] Moviegoers sometimes assumed from Washington’s appearance–her blue-gray eyes, pale complexion, and light brown hair–that she might have passed in real life. In 1934 she said the role did not reflect her off-screen life, but “If I made Peola seem real enough to merit such statements, I consider such statements compliments and makes me feel I’ve done my job fairly well.”[9] Washington turned down many opportunities to pass as white. She told reporters in 1949 she identified as black “Because I’m honest, firstly, and secondly, you don’t have to be white to be good. I’ve spent most of my life trying to prove to those who think otherwise … I am a Negro and I am proud of it.”[9]

Imitation of Life was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but it did not win. Years later, in 2007, Time magazine ranked it as among “The 25 Most Important Films on Race”.[10] She also appeared in the 1939 film Mamba’s Daughters, along with popular singer Ethel Waters. In an effort to help other black actors and actresses to find more opportunities, she founded the Negro Actors Guild in 1937; the organization’s mission included speaking out against stereotyping and advocating for a wider range of roles. [11]Washington served as the organization’s first executive secretary. [12]

Despite receiving critical acclaim, she was unable to find much work in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s. One the one hand, black actresses were expected to have dark skin, and were usually typecast as maids. On the other hand, directors were concerned about casting a light-skinned black actress in a romantic role with a white leading man; the filmproduction code prohibited suggestions of miscegenation, so Hollywood directors did not offer her any romantic roles. [13] As one modern critic explained, Fredi Washington was “too beautiful and not dark enough to play maids, but rather too light to act in all-black movies.” [14] She also tried to find work in radio, where most opportunities for black performers were as musicians in bands, or as comedic sidekicks, such as Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, in his role as Jack Benny‘s valet.[15]

Washington had an important dramatic role in a 1943 radio tribute to black women, Heroines in Bronze, produced by the National Urban League.[16] But there were few regular dramatic programs in that era with black protagonists. Washington wrote an opinion piece for the black press in which she discussed how limited the opportunities in broadcasting were for black actors, actresses, and vocalists, saying that “radio seems to keep its doors sealed” against “colored artists.” [17]

In 1945 she said:

“You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.”[18]

She played opposite Bill Robinson in Fox’s One Mile from Heaven (1937), in which she played a mulatto claiming to be the mother of a “white” baby. Claire Trevor plays a reporter who discovers the story and helps both Washington and the white biological mother who had given up the baby, played by Sally Blane.[19][20] According to the Museum of Modern Art in 2013: “The last of the six Claire Trevor ‘snappy’ vehicles Dwan made for Fox in the 1930s tests the limits of free expression on race in Hollywood while sometimes straining credulity.”[21]

Washington was also a theatre writer. She was the Entertainment Editor for People’s Voice, a newspaper for African Americans founded by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a Baptist minister and politician in New York City. For a time he was married to her sister Isabel Washington.[1] It was published 1942-1948.[22] She was outspoken about racism faced by African Americans. She worked closely with Walter White, then president of the NAACP, to address pressing issues facing black people in America. Her experiences in the film industry and theatre led her to become a civil rights activist. Together with Noble Sissle, W.C. Handy and Dick Campbell, in 1937 Washington was a founding member with Alan Corelli of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG) in New York.[23]

In 1953, she was a film casting consultant for Carmen Jones, which starred Dorothy Dandridge, another pioneering African-American actress. She also consulted on casting forGeorge Gershwin‘s Porgy and Bess, an opera performed in revival on Broadway in 1952, and filmed in 1959.[10]

Awards/Honors: Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, 1975

Quotes About or By Fredi: From Wikipedia 

Imitation of Life (1934)--Fredi Washington.JPG

Washington had an important dramatic role in a 1943 radio tribute to black women, Heroines in Bronze, produced by the National Urban League.[16] But there were few regular dramatic programs in that era with black protagonists. Washington wrote an opinion piece for the black press in which she discussed how limited the opportunities in broadcasting were for black actors, actresses, and vocalists, saying that “radio seems to keep its doors sealed” against “colored artists.” [17]

In 1945 she said:

“You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.”[18]

Throughout her life, Washington was often asked if she ever wanted to “pass” for white. Washington, a proud black woman, answered conclusively, “No.” She said this repeatedly, “I don’t want to pass because I can’t stand insincerities and shams. I am just as much Negro as any of the others identified with the race.”[24]

“I have never tried to pass for white and never had any desire, I am proud of my race. In ‘Imitation of Life’, I was showing how a girl might feel under the circumstances but I am not showing how I felt.”[25]

“I am an American citizen and by God, we all have inalienable rights and wherever those rights are tampered with, there is nothing left to do but fight…and I fight. How many people do you think there are in this country who do not have mixed blood, there’s very few if any, what makes us who we are, are our culture and experience. No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white. To prove I don’t buy white superiority I chose to be a Negro.”[18]

Death: June 28, 1994 in Stamford, Connecticut after a series of strokes

I Salute this AMAZING HER-Story making sista!

Sources:

Wikipedia

Little Known Black Herstory Facts

Little Known Black History Fact:Raven Wilkinson-Long before African-American ballerina Misty Copeland danced her way into American Ballet Theater,Raven Wilkinson was already a living legend as the 1st African-American woman to be signed by a major ballet company. Although she faced extreme racism and almost left her field,her resilience in the face of adversity is admirable. She was born Anne Raven Wilkinson in Harlem on February 2, 1935,Parents Dr. Frost Wilkinson,a dentist & click to read more:

 Raven Wilkinson-Long before African-American ballerina Misty Copeland danced her way into American Ballet Theater,Raven Wilkinson was already a living legend as the 1st African-American woman to be signed by a major ballet company. Although she faced extreme racism and almost left her field,her resilience in the face of adversity is admirable. She was born Anne Raven Wilkinson in Harlem on February 2, 1935,Parents Dr. Frost Wilkinson,a dentist & click here to read more

Mme. Abomah (born 1862?) was known as the Amazon Giantess and the African Giantess. She has traveled all over the world as the tallest woman in the world: Australia, New Zealand, South America, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland. She was billed as being 7'6Mme. Abomah (born 1862?) was known as the Amazon Giantess and the African Giantess. She has traveled all over the world as the tallest woman in the world: Australia, New Zealand, South America, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland. She was billed as being 7’6″ tall, but photographic evidence suggests she was more in the 6’10” – 6’11” range… . Read more at http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2012/09/mme-abomah-african-giantess-tallest.html

BETTY BOOP-Ms. ESTHER JONES, known by her stage name, "Baby Esther," was an African-American singer and entertainer in the late 1920s. She performed at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Singer Helen Kane saw her act in 1928 and (COPIED or stole) Ms. Jones' singing style, for a recording of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" Ms. Jones' singing style went on to become the inspiration for Max Fleischer's character's voice and singing style of BETTY BOOP, who was a Black. This is Kane pictured not Jones.: BETTY BOOP-Ms. ESTHER JONES, known by her stage name, “Baby Esther,” was an African-American singer and entertainer in the late 1920s. She performed at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Singer Helen Kane saw her act in 1928 and (COPIED or stole) Ms. Jones’ singing style, for a recording of “I Wanna Be Loved By You” Ms. Jones’ singing style went on to become the inspiration for Max Fleischer’s character’s voice and singing style of BETTY BOOP, who was a Black. This is Kane pictured not Jones. Read more at madamnoire.com

The story of Krotoa (also known as Eva), a woman born in the 1600s who interpreted for Dutch colonists...: Krotoa-Eva, a woman born in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa in the 1600s interpreted for Dutch colonists. She started out as a household servant but learned Dutch and soon found herself working as an interpreter in high-stakes settings. Read more at http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs047/1106162828742/archive/1110130265019.html

Rosemary Roberts Cloud - the first African American Female Fire Chief in the United States.: Rosemary Roberts Cloud – the first African American Female Fire Chief in the United States. Read more at eastpointcity.org

Bernice Julia Hilbert, sister of Seattle resident Albert Hilbert, had her name legally changed to LaTanya Martinique. Around 1938 she received a Rosenwald Scholarship for fashion design; it is believed she was the first African American woman to receive this award.ca. 1945Picture is Bernice Julia Hilbert, sister of Seattle resident Albert Hilbert, had her name legally changed to LaTanya Martinique. Around 1938 she received a Rosenwald Scholarship for fashion design; it is believed she was the first African American woman to receive this award. ca. 1945 From vintageblackbeauty, tumblr

La Mulâtresse Solitude (1772-19 November 1802), was a slave rebel and heroine of the fight against slavery in Guadeloupe. Originally a slave, she was freed by the abolition of slavery in 1794 during the French revolution. When slavery was reintroduced on Guadeloupe by Napoleon in 1802, she joined Louis Delgrès call to fight for her freedom and took part in the Battle of the 18 May 1802. She was captured and executed by hanging after being granted to wait out her pregnancy.: La Mulâtresse Solitude (1772-19 November 1802), was a slave rebel and heroine of the fight against slavery in Guadeloupe. Originally a slave, she was freed by the abolition of slavery in 1794 during the French revolution. When slavery was reintroduced on Guadeloupe by Napoleon in 1802, she joined Louis Delgrès call to fight for her freedom and took part in the Battle of the 18 May 1802. She was captured and executed by hanging after being granted to wait out her pregnancy. From Tierra LaSha, Pinterest

Before the Williams Sisters - Margaret and Matilda Peters, affectionately known as ‘Pete” and Repeat’. The Peters made history with their doubles record from the 1930s to the 1950s. At a time when African Americans were not allowed to compete against whites, the Peters sisters played in the American Tennis Association, which was created specifically to give blacks a forum to play tennis competitively. Inducted into the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic Section Hall of Fame in 2003.: Before the Williams Sisters – Margaret and Matilda Peters, affectionately known as ‘Pete” and Repeat’. The Peters made history with their doubles record from the 1930s to the 1950s. At a time when African Americans were not allowed to compete against whites, the Peters sisters played in the American Tennis Association, which was created specifically to give blacks a forum to play tennis competitively. Inducted into the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic Section Hall of Fame in 2003. Read more at rewindingblack.com

Dr. Gwendolyn E. Boyd, first female president of HBCU Alabama State University her alma mater (summa cum laude grad) and first African American woman to receive the M.S. degree in mechanical engineering at Yale University. She serves as an iterant elder in the A.M.E. church and received her M.Div. degree from Howard University. She is currently pursing the D.Min. degree at Howard University School of Divinity.: Dr. Gwendolyn E. Boyd, first female president of HBCU Alabama State University her alma mater (summa cum laude grad) and first African American woman to receive the M.S. degree in mechanical engineering at Yale University. She serves as an iterant elder in the A.M.E. church and received her M.Div. degree from Howard University. She is currently pursing the D.Min. degree at Howard University School of Divinity. Read more at npr.org

R & B Artist Spotlight: Jazmine Sullivan

micdotcom:

Jazmine Sullivan is bringing body positivity to R&B — and it’s downright refreshing

Jazmine Sullivan is the greatest R&B singer too many people have never heard of. The 28-year-old, who in 2010 won the Billboard Rising Star Award at the Billboard Women in Music Awards, has been lauded for her silky, old-school sound, which led to her first big hits in 2008 “Need U Bad” and “Bust Your Windows.” Five years later she’s back with a new album — and powerful message.

From Dewayne Rogers Photography

From NOORFACE

sullivan-jazmine: Ben Hassett Photography

From Ben Hassett Photography

Great Goddess Femcees

As you all can see I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, one area in hip hop history; particularly old school. Here are a few I’ll call (a little) lesser known femcees from the late 1980s early 1990s that I’ve  become familiar with a few years ago. When they made their public debut I was a little girl; if you were a teen or a young adult then I know you remember these great sistas.

Antoinette
                                                                            Antoinette Today

Born Antoinette in 1970, Queens, New York is best known for her breakout single “I Got An Attitude” on producer Hurby Azor’s compilation album, Hurby’s Machine (1987). The self-proclaimed Gangstress of Rap released two albums, “Who’s The Boss?” (1989) and “Burnin’ at 20 Below” (1990). She’s also been in a a rap battle with fellow femcee MC Lyte. Where is she now? Well, It is rumored that Antoinette is a NYPD officer. *shrugs*

sweettee
                                                                               Sweet Tee Today

Born Toi Jackson, Sweet Tee from Queens, New York made her debut with her 1988 album “It’s Tee Time.”  She’s best known for her singles “I Got The Feelin” “On The Smooth Tip” “Why Did It Have To Be Me” and “It’s Like That Y’All.” She released a single “What’s Up, Star (1995) under the moniker Suga and has reported that she’s currently back in the studio and with a single available online, Queen of QNZ.

                                                                                 Heather B. Today

Born Heather B. Gardner in 1971 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Heather B. is best known as a member of the original MTV Real World cast, rapper Heather B. began as a part-time performer with KRS-One‘s Boogie Down Productions when she added vocals to the group’s Sex and Violence album. After appearing on Real World, Heather recorded a single for Elektra Records, “I Get Wreck,” and pressed her own copies of another single, “All Glocks Down,” that was eventually released by Pendulum Records.In 1996, she released her first album, Takin’ Mine. The single “All Glocks Down”, an anti-gun violence anthem, received radio play, as did the follow-up single “If Headz Only Knew.”[5] In 1997, Gardner signed with MCA Records and in 1998 she released the single, “Do You,” which had a considerable amount of television and radio airplay. In 2002 Gardner produced her second album, Eternal Affairs, with production from Pete Rock and DJ Premier. The album met with positive reviews despite not charting on Billboard. As of 2012, she is the co-host of Sirius Satellite Radio Show, Sway In the Morning with former MTV reporter Sway Calloway.

                                                Nikki D. Today

Nikki D. born Nichelle Strong is the first female rapper to be signed to Def Jam Recordings.

She signed with Def Jam in 1989, and released her debut single “Lettin’ Off Steam” the same year. It was produced by Sam Sever. The single’s video featured Flavor Flav. Later Nikki D released the more commercially acceptable song, “Daddy’s Little Girl” some two years later, which reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart.[2]

Prior to releasing “Daddy’s Little Girl”, Nikki D was on tour in Europe for a year with fellow R&B artist Alyson Williams. Nikki D has recorded songs with Moby, Queen Latifah on the Set It Off soundtrack, with Redman for his Muddy Waters album, EPMD, Naughty By Nature, Flavor Unit and Suzanne Vega.[citation needed]

In 1998, Nikki D became the vice president of A&R at Flavor Unit Records, a position she held for two years. Today she is the marketing manager at “Phat Fashions”, the apparel company that houses Phat Farm, Baby Phat, and Atman.

                                                          MC Trouble

MC Trouble (July 30, 1970-June 4, 1992) born Latasha Sheron Rogers was the first female rapper signed to Motown Records.

MC Trouble had a minor hit with the song (I Wanna) Make You Mine featuring The Good Girls, released May 25, 1990. “Make You Mine” peaked at #15 on the Billboard Magazine’s Hot Rap Songs charts.[1] The title track of her debut album Gotta Get a Grip was released as a second single on September 14, 1990. Gotta Get a Grip showed promise as a mix of hardcore rap and more

Rogers was born with epilepsy and received daily treatment to prevent seizures; In 1992, she was in production for her second album when she died in her sleep on June 4, 1992, while at the home of a friend in Los Angeles shortly after suffering an epileptic seizure which resulted in heart failure.

The posthumous single “Big Ole Jazz” was released in 1992 and appeared on the House Party 2 soundtrack resulted in a second & final hit on Billboard’s rap singles chart. The song ‘Vibes and Stuff’ by rap group A Tribe Called Quest off their album The Low End Theory was dedicated to MC Trouble. Her dedication is mentioned several times throughout the track.

Sources

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/heather-b-mn0000951379/biography

Wikipedia

The Fultz Sisters: The Fascinating and Tragic Story of America’s First Identical Black Quadruplets

Posted September 18, 2015 by Chinwe From Black Girl Long Hair

Fultz Quads meeting JFK

The Fultz sisters were born on May 23, 1946 and became the first identical African-American quadruplets on record.  They were instant celebrities upon entering the world and endured the highs and lows of publicity.

Born into the public eye

Fultz on Ebony
The survival of quadruplets into their first birthday was a rarity and created a national sensation. (EBONY)

Mr. and Mrs. Fultz were poor with six children when they gave birth to the identical quadruplets in the segregated wing of a North Carolina hospital.  Almost simultaneously, the cameras and endorsements came knocking because of the rarity of this high order multiple birth.  Of the interested companies, Pet Evaporated Milk offered to pay all medical bills associated with the birth, hire an in-home nurse to care for the girls, and give the family their own farming land and house.  The hired nurse, Elma Saylor, shares what the offer meant to the struggling family.

“[Mr. Fultz] had never made more than $500 a year in his whole life. So when Pet came around with that offer, Mr. Fultz and the others thought they’d had a blessing from heaven.  You’ve got to remember that all that was more than 20 years ago in the rural South, and anything that white people did for you in those days was kind of unusual.  And to think that after all those years, the Fultz family would have a 150-acre farm and their own house just given to them by a big company way off in St. Louis. Why, everyone down there thought that was just marvelous.”- EBONY,“The Fultz Quads” by Charles L. Sanders, Nov. 1968

Doctor Fred Klenner, who delivered the Fultz Quads, actually negogiated the deal with Pet turning down two other milk companies, Borden and Carnation.  He seemed to take charge of the girls lives in the beginning, having experimentally put Mrs. Fultz on high dosages of vitamin C in the latter part of her pregnancy and then naming the quadruplets upon birth.  (The girls became Klenner’s “vitamin C babies”.)

“The doctor took it upon himself to name the girls — all of them Mary, followed by the names of the women in the Klenner family. There was Ann, for the doctor’s wife; Louise, his daughter; Alice, his aunt; and Catherine, his great-aunt.

To the delivery nurse, who is black, it didn’t seem strange.

“At that time, you know, it was before integration,” Margaret Ware, 79, recalled recently. “They did us how they wanted. And these were very poor people. He was a sharecropper, Pete [Mr. Fultz] was, and she [Mrs. Fultz] couldn’t read or write. – News & Record, “And then there was one” by Lorraine Ahearn, Aug. 2002″

Fultz baby
Dr. Fred Klenner holding one of the Fultz quadruplets. (EBONY)

In addition to naming the sisters, Klenner set up visitations at the Fultz home for curious strangers who wanted to see the quadruplets.  The girls were put on display in a glass-enclosed nursery.

Dr. Fred Klenner stated that visitors would be welcome at the home between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each afternoon, and that the quads could be viewed through a glass screen. – News & Record

And so it began …

World Famous Fultz
  One of their many Pet Milk advertisements.

Publicity and disappointment

The end of the Second World War had brought intense economic growth.  The Fultz Quads subsequently became “national icons of the post-war baby craze and of the birth of the black urban consumer,” appearing in countless Pet Milk advertisements into their teenage years.  (Pet Milk sold more cans in 1950 — four years into the sisters’ lives — than it had sold in its 65-year history.  The company attributes that feat to “the post-war prosperity and baby boom”, but one has to wonder what portion of that success is actually due to the Fultz Quads and five other quadruplets appearing as the faces for Pet Milk.)

Fultz Pet 3

As the Fultz Quads grew into young women, they continued to appear in the public eye. In November 1959, at age thirteen, they performed as a string quartet in the annual Orange Blossom Festival in Miami, Florida. For their 16th birthday, they were featured in a Pet Milk ad for an autographed picture of the girls.  That same year, they met President John F. Kennedy at the capital where twelve years before they had also met President Harry S. Truman during his walk. These are just some of the many appearances the Fultz Quads made.

Fultz on TV
                                      From the Fultz Quads memory book.

Fultz 1962
Autographed picture appears in Pet Milk advertisement for their 16th birthday.

Many African Americans saw the Fultz Quads as the black version of the Dionne Quintuplets, reaping the monetary benefits of fame. However, behind closed doors, the sisters were not as compensated and financially secure as many thought. Unlike the white Dionne Quintuplets, who received $1 million in a trust fund at age seven, the girls were paid scraps. (The Dionne Quintuplets also have a sad story worth reading.) Elma Saylor, the nurse who was hired to care for them in their home, and her husband, Charles Saylor, had adopted the quadruplets in 1956 and knew the truth of their lives.

They had always been [poor]. For no matter what the public thought, the highly publicized Pet Milk advertising contracts had brought in just enough money – $350 a month – to keep the Fultz Quads off North Carolina’s welfare rolls …

[Saylor then shares] “Out of that $350 came my salary …

Somebody ought to just take a trip down to North Carolina and inspect that great farm that was played up so much in the newspaper stories.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, and the land’s so poor that you can’t even get timber to grow on it anymore.  Then the place has always been so hilly that you couldn’t raise good crops on it …

There was also a lot of publicity about the family’s ‘very own house’ on the farm.  Let’s set the record straight: it was an old four-room place in which 13 to 14 people, including myself as the babies’ nurse, had to live.  Pet Milk put in a faucet and electricity and a gas hot plate for cooking, and they closed in the front porch so that I’d have a place to sleep.  That was, I guess you’d call it, the ‘nurse’s quarters’ — my room, out there on the porch …

I’m not saying that Pet didn’t do everything it promised to do; I’m saying that they could have done more.” – EBONY

Aside from this truth, there was the reality that the sisters had difficulty adjusting to normal lives. After two years of college, the Fultz Quads were forced to withdraw.  When EBONY Magazine interviewed them in 1968, the sisters were in Peekskill, New York living in a small two-bedroom apartment with their adopted parents and working at a factory making men’s raincoats for low wages.  Though the girls were not exactly suffering, they were certainly not doing much better than the average African American at that time.

Breast cancer and death

Mary Catherine Fultz-Griffin
Mary Catherine Fultz-Griffin looks at a picture of she and her sisters at Annie Penn Hospital, their birthplace. (News & Record)

Later in life, the Fultz Quads went back to school ultimately graduating from Barbizon in 1985.  At least one of the sisters went on to marry, and that is all we really know about their lives until 2002.  The last journalist update on them sadly informed readers that three of the sisters had developed breast cancer and died.

The last one born, the unexpected one, she [Catherine] was now the only survivor. First, Louise had died of breast cancer at age 45, then Ann, from the identical cause at age 50. Finally, Alice had lost the same battle, at 55, her body about to leave Annie Penn in a funeral-home ambulance — the same way the over-taxed hospital transported the four babies home to their parents’ tobacco farm in 1946. – News & Record

It has been said that Catherine also developed breast cancer but then went into remission.  No other news has been found about the Fultz Quads since then.

SOURCES:
EBONY, “The Fultz Quads” by Charles L. Sanders, Nov. 1968.
News & Record, “And then there was one” by Lorraine Ahearn, Aug. 2002.

Have you heard about the Fultz Quads?