Black First of the Day

Black Firsts 3e
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Who was the first African American to win a Grammy Award?

  • Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, he began playing the piano as a teenager.
  • Later, in 1988, the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince became the first rap group to win a Grammy Award.
  • Billie "Lady Day" Holiday (1915-1959) received her nickname from Lester Young when she was with his band.
  • He was also the first black from the United States to have a band give a command performance before Queen Elizabeth.


1959

Count [William] Basie (1904-1984)

In 1959, Count [William] Basie (1904-1984) was the first black man to win a Grammy. He was also the first black from the United States to have a band give a command performance before Queen Elizabeth. Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, he began playing the piano as a teenager and studied with Fats Waller. Basie's own band, formed in 1935 in Kansas City, Missouri, took the flowering of that city's style to Chicago and New York City. He is said to have helped to invent big-band swing. The band established itself as one of the leaders in jazz.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Black America, p. 168; Jet 81 (18 November 1991): 12; Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, pp. 29-30; Southern, The Music of Black Americans, pp. 384-85.

From Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Events by Jessie Carney Smith, © 2013 Visible Ink Press®. A celebration of achievement, accomplishments and pride.

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