Author and activist. At age six, was one of the first Black children to integrate an all-white public elementary school in the south at William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans. She later became a civil rights activist as an adult, launching a foundation to promote the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of differences. Through education and inspiration, the foundation seeks to end racism and prejudice.
Community activist. One of the “The McDonogh Three”, Leona Tate enrolled at McDonogh 19 Elementary the same morning Ruby Bridges enrolled at William Frantz. Unlike Frantz, McDonogh did not integrate the following year. White families pulled their children out and the school became all black. Currently Tate runs the Tate, Etienne, and Prevost (TEP) Center, a mixed-use development dedicated to the history of New Orleans Public School desegregation, Civil Rights, and black Life. The center operates on the site of McDonogh 19.
Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons
Activist. Simmons became known as a “first lieutenant” to fellow CORE member and organizer, Oretha Castle Haley. While participating in Freedom Rides, she became a trainer for CORE, teaching how to participate in nonviolent protests. Eventually, Simmons shifted her focus to advocating for Black New Orleanians’ voting rights by educating voters about registration tests and organizing voter drives. She is also a founding member of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and was the foundation’s first employee.
Raphael Cassimere Jr.
Activist and historian. Active within leadership of the local NAACP at the city and state level since 1960. Appointed by Governor Edwin Edwards to the Louisiana Election Code Revision Commission which was responsible for revising the election laws of Louisiana. He was later elected its secretary. All the while he was a member of the History Department of the University of New Orleans from1971 to 2007, when he retired. He was the first Black faculty member of the University.
Community leader and entrepreneur. As a member of the New Orleans Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) he contributed to numerous sit-ins and demonstrations throughout the South. In 1967, Mr. Hubbard organized the Southern Organization for Unified Leadership (SOUL) support to Black people seeking public office. He also built the largest 100 percent Black-owned and operated services company in America, Superdome Services, Inc. He has also served as president of Louisiana Sports, Inc. As a promoter he helped to make world heavy weight championship boxing match between Muhamad Ali and Leon Spinks one of the most attended events in the Superdome’s history.
Activist and nonprofit leader. He was a Field Director for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and worked closely with James Farmer to register voters and protest public segregation throughout the south. As an advocate, he successfully lobbied for reducing the state’s prison population and using those savings for quality re-entry programs that reduce the recidivism rate. He is currently the founder and director for Cornerstone Builders, a program that helps formerly incarcerated men and women re-enter society & provides support for families and children of the incarcerated.
Activist and writer. He gained national attention in 1962, when he became the first African American student at the University of Mississippi, a key juncture in the civil rights movement. Following deadly campus riots he was admitted under the protection of US Marshalls. In 1966, he planned a solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi; to highlight continuing racism in the south and encourage voter registration after passage of the Voting Rights Act. On the second day, he was shot by a white gunman and suffered numerous wounds. Leaders of major organizations vowed to complete the march in his name after he was taken to the hospital. It became the largest civil rights march in Mississippi with an estimated 15,000 participants and getting 4,000 Black voters registered.
Activist and author. As a student at Xavier University, he was the Chairman of the New Orleans Chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in early 1960's. His name is on the case Lombard V Louisiana that went to the US Supreme Court following the McCrory lunch counter sit in. In 1970 he published “Creole Feast” to fill in for the absence of Black chefs in the narrative of New Orleans as a burgeoning culinary destination. The book was co-authored by chef Nathaniel Burton and edited by Toni Morrison.
Musician. New Orleans native, an all-star virtuoso, he came to prominence in the 1920s, influencing countless musicians with both his trumpet style and unique vocals. Through his playing, the trumpet emerged as a solo instrument in jazz. New Orleans jazz trumpeters are indebted to this legacy. Additionally, jazz itself was transformed from a collectively improvised folk music to a soloist's serious art form largely through his influence. He is also widely recognized as a pioneer of scat singing. In the 30s he became the first Black person to host a national radio show and to receive featured billing in a major Hollywood movie. His popularity only grew. His record “Hello Dolly” bumped The Beatles from the top of the charts at the height of Beatlemania. He maintained hits even after his death with his songs being used in popular movies.
Musician. A jazz trumpeter, composer, bandleader, and one of the primary innovators of bebop. He led small groups before forming his own big band in the late 1940s. Gillespie popularized the use of Afro-Cuban rhythms in jazz. His virtuosity and comic wit (in addition to his puffed cheeks and trademark 45° upturned trumpet bell) made him one of the most charismatic and influential musicians in jazz.
Musician. A major figure in the history of jazz music with a career spanning more than half a century. In the 20s his band regularly performed at the Cotton Club and he composed thousands of songs for the stage, screen and the contemporary American songbook. An originator of big-band jazz, his band would enjoy the highest professional and artistic reputation in until the end of his life.
Musician. A legendary pianist, singer, composer, bandleader, and leading entertainer billed as “the Genius.” Charles was credited with the early development of soul music, a style based on the blend of gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz music. His rhythmic piano playing and band arranging revived the “funky” quality of jazz, but he also recorded in many other musical genres, crossing into the country and pop charts.
Musician. One of the most important and influential entertainers in 20th-century popular music. He developed a highly personal style, combining blues and gospel music elements with his own highly rhythmic delivery. His recordings of the 60s have often been associated with the emergence of the Black Arts and Black Nationalist movements, especially “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud”. He would come to be known as the “Godfather of Soul” and “the hardest working man in showbusiness.
Musician. A singer and pianist known for her rich voice and wide vocal range. While performing with Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker she was introduced to bebop and began modeling her singing after the horns of the band. After a 50 year career, she came to be regarded as one of the best jazz singers of all time.
Nat King Cole
Musician and performer. He first came to prominence as a jazz pianist but owes most of his popular musical success to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform hits such as “Unforgettable” and “The Christmas Song”. In 1956 he became the first African American performer to host a variety TV series. “The Nat King Cole Show” featured many of the leading performers of the day. After the show ended, he took on many roles in film and had more appearances on TV.
Quincy Jones Jr.
Musician, film producer & philanthropist. A pianist and trumpet player whose work encompasses nearly all popular music. He is best known as a composer and record producer for legendary musicians such as Frank Sinatra & Michael Jackson. He’s composed over 50 scores and executive produced the film adaptation of “The Wiz” & “The Color Purple” as well as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. He's been nominated for nearly 80 Grammy Awards, winning 25 to date.
Musician. New Orleans native, singer and rhythm-and-blues artist whose innovative music helped lay the foundation for rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. His style of piano playing, accompanied by simple saxophone riffs, drums and his mellow baritone voice, made him stand out in the sea of 1950s acts. He recorded 37 records to reach the Top 40 and selling 65 million copies, making him one of the most popular performers of the early rock era. He was among the charter members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Musician. One of the first jazz vibraphonists and was one of the jazz giants beginning in the mid-'30s. Starting out as a drummer in Chicago, he found success recording with Louis Armstrong as a vibraphonist. On Armstrong’s record “Shine” Hampton became the first recorded jazz improviser. After playing with Benny Goodman in one of the first racially integrated quartets, he formed his own band in the 40s. His band helped launch the careers of other luminaries like Dinah Washington & Charles Mingus.
Musician. Originally a trumpeter with Duke Ellington, he became a bandleader, composer, arranger, and record producer. He was prominent in the music of New Orleans throughout the second half of the 20th century. In his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was cited as a key figure in the transition from jump blues and swing to R&B and as "one of the Crescent City's greatest musicians and a true pioneer in the rock and roll revolution". Many musicians have recorded Bartholomew's songs, but his partnership with Fats Domino produced some of his greatest successes.
Recording engineer. Opened J&M Recording Studio at 18 years old. As an engineer and proprietor he frequently worked with producers Dave Bartholomew and Allen Toussaint. He recorded many hits, including Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man" (a contender for the first rock and roll record), Little Richard's “Tutti Frutti”, and records by Ray Charles, Dr. John, Professor Longhair and many others. He was responsible for developing what became known as the New Orleans sound, with strong drums, heavy guitar, bass and piano, light horns and a strong vocals. Working with minimal equipment and little separation between instruments, Matassa developed a distinctive, atmospheric sound that better-equipped studios could never replicate.
Performer & activist. Starting out as a dancer at the Cotton Club, she became an all-around performer and one of the most popular singers of her time. Most famous for her role and the title song in “Stormy Weather,” she had a lengthy career on stage, screen and as a singer. This is despite being blacklisted for a time due to her Civil Rights activism. She famously refused to play USO tours to segregated troops where German POWs were given preferential seating. She performed at rallies around the country on behalf of the NAACP and the National Council for Negro Women, and she participated in the 1963 March on Washington.
Actress. An Emmy and Tony award winning actress she refused to take any roles that were not uplifting portrayals of Black women. It led her to largely be absent from the screen in the late 60s. But she is known for her roles in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Lesson Before Dying and Roots. As a philanthropist she was one of the initial funders of the Dance Theater of Harlem.
Singer. A soprano, she is widely regarded as the first Black opera singer to gain international acclaim. Starting on Broadway she moved into opera with the NBC Opera theater. However, she held a residency with The Met from 1961 to 1985. She performed recitals and smaller concerts until she retired in 1997 but will come out of retirement for special performances.
Poet & activist. Her work featuring and highlighting Black life includes poetry anthologies, nonfiction essays and children's literature. She helped to define the Black voice of the 1960s, '70s and beyond. She was also a major force in the Black Arts movement and used her platform to advocate for race and gender equality and to speak out about hate motivated violence. She established Cincinnati’s first Black Arts Festival.