Examine the influence of African American female performers in issuesregarding gender, race and sexual equality in the industry in which theywork and discuss the effects the changes these women pioneered helpedpush towards black equality.
In this essay I will examine the contribution of female performers in the United States of America and how they assisted in improving the country’s race relations. I will examineif these women pioneered these changes themselves or were simply the symbol of changewhich was inspired by other players. I will look at whether these women wanted to be part of these changes or whether they were forced into them. In this essay I will look atthe careers of four women, Ella Sheppard, Gladys Bentley, Marian Anderson and ArethaFranklin, the challenges that they faced and the opportunities that they created for others.Ella Sheppard is the first African American performer that I will be examining inthis essay; Sheppard is one of a few internationally successful singers who was a bornslave. Sheppard was born a slave in 1851 on Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage plantation, her father who had bought his own freedom by hiring himself out, was able to buy Ella’sfreedom at three years of age. Sheppard was the one of the first generation of AfricanAmericans to suffer the racist attitudes in a post slavery era. This began when she wastaking music lessons and to enter the music teachers house by the “back door after dark.”
When her father died and left her penniless she took a few jobs washing and ironing before entering Fisk University. When at the University she came to the attention of volunteer tutor George Leonard White who gave her music lessons. White recognised“that music had served as an important mode of resistance and consolation during his
We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century
, (New York, 1997) p. 383