Talent Biographies

(As of 2/05/10)

“In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement,” is a concert in the White House East Room.  President and Mrs. Obama will host the event in honor of Black History Month, and the evening will feature songs from the Civil Rights Movement performed by top entertainers, as well as readings from famous Civil Rights speeches and writings.  Artists include Yolanda Adams, Joan Baez, Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Smokey Robinson, Seal, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Howard University Choir and The Freedom Singers, featuring Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Rutha Harris, Charles Neblett and Toshi Reagon.  Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Queen Latifah and Joanne Woodward will be guest speakers.  The music special, part of the WETA “In Performance at the White House” series, will air on February 11 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings).

An electronic press kit, including downloadable talent photos for promotional use,
is available at pressroom.pbs.org.

Yolanda Adams

This award-winning Gospel music singer and radio show host has been amazing audiences and listeners for years with her trademark pioneering spirit and boundless optimism.  She has received four GRAMMY Awards and an American Music award, among others, and has sold more than 4.5 million CDs worldwide.  Adams hosts the popular syndicated radio show, “The Yolanda Adams Morning Show.”  Having just released her first book, Points of Power, she is slated to release her next recording this year.  Adams’ greatest and proudest attribute is being the mother of her beautiful, gifted, nine-year old daughter, Taylor Crawford, the joy and love of her life.

Joan Baez

This musical force of nature’s social works range from marching on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King Jr. and singing on the first Amnesty International tour to standing alongside Nelson Mandela when the world celebrated his 90th birthday.  She has sung about freedom and Civil Rights everywhere, from the backs of flatbed trucks in Mississippi to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in 1963.  In 1965, she co-founded the Institute For The Study Of Nonviolence.  In 2007, she received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.  Her latest album is Day After Tomorrow (2008).

Blind Boys of Alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama are known for bringing spiritual music to secular audiences and are recognized worldwide as living legends of gospel music.  Recognized with Lifetime Achievement Awards from The Recording Academy and the National Endowment for the Arts, inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and winners of five GRAMMY Awards, they have attained the highest levels of achievement in a career that spans more than 60 years and shows no signs of diminishing.  They have nearly 30 albums to their name, including the recent critically-acclaimed Duets (2009).

Natalie Cole

Nine-time GRAMMY Award-winner Cole took a bold leap in 1991 that would change her life and career forever.  Already a highly successful R&B artist, she amazed everyone when she recorded Unforgettable…With Love, an album of standards from the American Songbook.  The album spent five weeks at number one on the pop charts, earned six GRAMMY Awards — including Song, Record and Album of the Year — and sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.  Cole most recently released the follow-up, Still Unforgettable, which earned her two GRAMMY Awards and a NAACP Award for Best Jazz Artist.

Robert De Niro (Guest Speaker)
Robert De Niro’s career began in 1969.  By 1974, De Niro received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, Part II.  In 1980 he received his second Oscar as Best Actor in Raging Bull.  De Niro has received Oscar nominations for Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings and Cape Fear.  Upcoming projects include Little Fockers, the third installment of Tribeca Productions’ Meet the Parents.  Tribeca’s A Bronx Tale marked De Niro’s directorial debut.  He later directed and co-starred in The Good Shepherd.  De Niro’s co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival, in 2001 as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Bob Dylan

Folk/rock singer songwriter Dylan in 1960 began writing songs at an astonishing pace.  His 1963 release, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, included “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and his next album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, firmly established Dylan as the definitive songwriter of the ‘60s protest movement.  The GRAMMY Award-winning musician was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and in 1997 Dylan became the first rock star ever to receive Kennedy Center Honors, considered the nation’s highest award for artistic excellence.  His other awards include a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The Freedom Singers
The Freedom Singers reunite tonight with three original singers — Rutha Harris, Charles Neblett and Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon — plus the addition of musician Toshi Reagon.  The group was originally organized by Cordell Reagon in 1962 as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Cordell assembled the performers from the movements he had been active in: Rutha Harris and Bernice Johnson Reagon from the Albany, Georgia desegregation coalition and Charles Neblett from the sit-in demonstrations in Cairo, Illinois.  The Freedom Singers traveled around the country, carrying stories in song of local movement campaigns to audiences across the nation.

Morgan Freeman (Guest Speaker)

This American actor received Academy Award nominations for his performances in Street Smart (1987), Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), before winning for Million Dollar Baby (2004).  He won a Golden Globe Award for Driving Miss Daisy and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Million Dollar Baby.  His producing credits include Revelations Entertainment’s Invictus (2009), in which he plays Nelson Mandela, and The Jazz Ambassadors (2011).  Freeman’s commanding yet mellifluous voice has led him to narrate or host dozens of first-rate television specials covering topics including the American Civil War, the American Film Institute, blues music and the White House.

Rutha Harris
This singer and activist was an original member of the SNCC Freedom Singers, traveling over 50,000-plus miles in the 1960s singing for the cause of freedom.  Along with Dr. King, she was jailed four times in 1961-62, and she has done registration drives, picket lines and demonstrations.  Harris’ professional career began in 1963 when The Freedom Singers were signed to a recording contract with Mercury Records.  She has also recorded with a number of other groups and appeared as a choir member in the film The Preacher’s Wife.  Harris has received many awards, including the Martin Luther King Dream Award.

Howard University Choir

This resident choir of the Nation’s pre-eminent African-American University is recognized as one of the most outstanding choral groups in the United States.  The Choir has received national and international acclaim and, under the leadership of its present conductor, Dr. J. Weldon Norris, the Choir has performed throughout the world, most recently on a State Department tour of five cities in China.  The Choir has been critically acclaimed for its performances of choral works by great classical composers and, true to its singular legacy, the Choir has also become the definitive interpreter of Negro Spirituals and Work songs, as well as of choral works by composers of African descent.

Jennifer Hudson

An Academy Award-winning actress and a GRAMMY Award-winning recording artist, Hudson is an extraordinary talent in our time.  In 2007, Hudson won an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls; her performance also garnered a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BAFTA and an NAACP Image Award.  Hudson’s self-titled album won a GRAMMY Award for “Best R & B Album” and three awards at the 2009 NAACP Image Awards.  Her next film project is “Winnie”, based on the story of Winnie Mandela, former wife of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.

Queen Latifah (Guest Speaker)

This musician, actress, author and entrepreneur is a one-woman entertainment conglomerate.  Latifah has earned six GRAMMY nominations as well as a GRAMMY Award for Best Solo Rap Performance.  In 2002, she received an Academy Award nomination, among others, for her role in Chicago and in 2008 she won both a Golden Globe and a SAG award for her outstanding performance in the film she produced, Life Support.  Latifah owns and operates the production company Flavor Unit Entertainment and is the co-chairman for the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation, Inc., providing scholarships to financially limited students who excel scholastically.  Her latest album is Persona (2009).
John Legend

This American recording artist, musician, actor and social activist is the recipient of six GRAMMY Awards, and was named to the 2009 TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people.  His work includes collaborations with such artists as Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, and The Black Eyed Peas.  In 2007, Legend founded the Show Me Campaign (ShowMeCampaign.org), a grassroots movement whose mission is “to break the cycle of poverty by investing in solutions that have been proven to improve people’s lives and to give them the opportunity to help themselves through education.”  His most recent album is Evolver (2008).

John Mellencamp

This GRAMMY Award-winning singer-songwriter is known for his organic brand of heartland rock that is infused with evocative, introspective lyrics about politics, racism, poverty and mortality.  Mellencamp is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that raises awareness about the loss of family farms; as of 2009, the organization has raised over $35 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture.  Mellencamp was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.  His latest album is Life, Death, Love and Freedom (2008).

Charles Neblett
Charles Neblett is the first black elected magistrate in Logan, Kentucky.  He is the manager and music director of the SNCC Freedom Singers and he organizes their tours and performances.  He designs and presents the oral history of the Civil Rights Movement through song and testimony for students in elementary, middle high schools and colleges.  Neblett was a key organizer in the Cairo, Illinois, and Southeast Missouri Movement in 1960.  Early in 1961 he was recruited by SNCC as a field organizer in the Mississippi Delta for Greenville and Natchez.  Neblett was a charter member of the SNCC Freedom Singers.

Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon

Composer/singer, scholar and activist, Dr. Reagon’s life work began as a songleader in the Albany Civil Rights Movement.  She toured nationally with the SNCC Freedom Singers; during the Black Cultural Movement she formed the female Atlanta-based Harambee Singers; and in 1973 she founded the internationally renowned Sweet Honey In The Rock.  Among the awards she has received for her pioneering work in African-American culture and history are the MacArthur Award, the 1995 Presidential Medal for the Humanities and two Peabody Awards in radio production and film score composition.

Toshi Reagon

This singer can take any style, update it, and make it her own with incredible ease, fitting comfortably on a stage at Carnegie Hall or in a rock club.  Reagon is known for energetic performances and an exemplary gift for writing engaging songs.  She has worked with Elvis Costello, Pete Seeger, Lizz Wright and Ani Difranco, among others.  Her fusion of styles and forms draws listeners in, embraces them and sets them off in a rapturous, hand-raising, foot-stomping delight.  She tours both as a solo artist and with her 7 piece band BIGLovely.  Reagon cites her parents, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Cordell Reagon, as her musical-activist role models; they were both original members of The Freedom Singers.

Smokey Robinson (Executive Producer and Performer)

Legendary singer, songwriter and producer Robinson’s honey-coated voice connects with listeners in a highly personal way.  This Motown legend has earned 37 Top 40 hits for Motown Records between 1960 and 1987, in 1988 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1991 received the Soul Train Music Award for Career Achievement, in 1999 the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, and was a 2005 Songwriters Hall of Fame honoree and a 2006 Kennedy Center honoree.  His latest album, on his own Robso Records, is Time Flies When You’re Having Fun (2009).

Seal is a multi-platinum artist with countless accolades including three GRAMMY Awards and more than 15 million albums sold worldwide.  In 2008, Seal released his sixth studio album, Soul.  Produced by the legendary David Foster, Soul is a compilation of the best classic soul songs ever created with Seal’s signature touch.  The album of covers topped charts globally and featured the Sam Cooke Civil Rights ballad “A Change is Gonna Come.”  His latest album is Seal Hits (2009).

Joanne Woodward (Guest Speaker)

This Award-winning actress, television and theatrical producer is a beloved figure in American arts.  She appeared with her husband, Paul Newman, in ten feature films.  In 1958, Woodward won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Three Faces of Eve and she has been a nominee for three other films; she has also won two Emmy Awards.  In 1992, she received Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., alongside her husband.  Today she is the artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse.  Woodward also continues today an ongoing commitment to philanthropy, much of it affiliated with Newman’s Own Foundation, which distributes funds to a variety of charities

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