Thomas Greene Wiggins
Thomas Greene Wiggins, known as “Blind Tom” was an African American musical genius born blind on May 25, 1849. After the purchase of his parents by U.S. Colonel Neil Bethune, Wiggins was given out as a discount due to his blindness.
From his infancy, Wiggins manifested an extraordinary ability of composing sounds. Bethune’s family learned about the boy’s gifts and Mary Bethune, a daughter to Colonel Neil Bethune, decided to teach Wiggins how to sing and play piano.
At the age of eight, Wiggins was hired out to other masters to perform in public concerts in cities throughout Georgia, such as Atlanta, Macon and Athens. During the Civil War, with fear of possible threat from freed slaves, James Bethune was forced to sign an agreement with Wiggins’ parents to stay with the blind boy for five years.
After many years of exploitation by both the Bethune family and his managers, Wiggins died a penniless black man despite of his exceptional retentive skills as a pianist, a singer and a composer. He died in June 13, 1908 at Eliza Bethune’s home at the age of 59.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Bill Robinson, nicknamed “Bojangles,” was a Black American singer, dancer, and entertainer born on May 25, 1878 in Richmond, Virginia. Starting his career as a performer, Robinson made his way through the entertaining industry through dancing and features in famous Hollywood films, making him a favorite to both black and white audiences.
Robinson’s parents died in 1885, which forced him to live with his grandmother, who was a slave earlier in life. At the age of five, young Bill was forced to perform dances in local beer gardens to earn a living. When he was 13, Robinson joined a traveling company and was able to achieve great success in nightclubs and black theaters.
After his duties as a rifleman in World War I, Robinson returned to singing and was able to release a major hit “Blackbirds of 1928.” He starred in 14 major Hollywood movies, becoming the first African American to accomplish such a feat in the entertainment industry.
Robinson married three times throughout his life. He died in 1949 at the age of 71.
Uggams Leslie is a professional singer, actress, and entertainer born on May 25, 1943. Leslie’s stage talent was exposed in 1949 at the age of six, when she featured in a televised series Beulah. When she was nine, young Leslie performed at the Apollo theatre alongside other elite actors. A few years later, Leslie became a major character in the televised series Sing Along with Mitch.
Uggams Leslie reached her career heights in 1967 when she took part in the musical Hallelujah Baby. In 1968, Leslie won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical Comedy. After being featured in numerous television series, such as Blues In the Night, Anything Goes, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and On Golden Pond, Leslie was nominated for Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and won the Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress.