Wow, what a day.
Today marks the anniversary of (at least) five major figures being born, people without whom the world would have turned out differently, each one an icon in their field. Like whom?
The Emmy-award winning actress, singer and cabaret star is often remembered for her iconic roles as Catwoman on the 1960s Batman series and as weird executive Lady Eloise in the Eddie Murphy vehicle Boomerang. She had hit records ("C'est si bon," "Where Is My Man?") and didn't let furor over anti-war statements made at a White House luncheon with then-president Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson …
"You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot … The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war."
The then-First Lady burst into tears at this and the uproar postponed Kitt's fortunes in the US, sending her to perform in Europe and Asia. Thankfully she came back and was embraced by popular culture, even going as far as becoming an element in a Monthy Python sketch. She was also a strong supporter of homosexual rights and same sex marriage. She passed away from colon cancer on December 25, 2008.
James Earl Jones
With his booming bass voice, James Earl Jones is perhaps best known as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films. His geek credentials run deeper, starring as Thulsa Doom alongside Arnold Schwartzenegger in John Milius' Conan The Barbarian and putting in his time as a Black icon alongside Diahhan Carroll in Claudine and as the father of Eddie Murphy's character in Coming To America. He also served in the military (he was an Army Ranger) and worked tirelessly as a stage actor, performing everything from Shakespeare (his Othello has been performed at the White House) to Driving Miss Daisy. He's also widely appreciated for providing the voice of Mufasa in The Lion King and becoming the voice of CNN and Verizon. He has a host of awards — Oscars, Emmy Awards, Golden Globes, Tony Awards and more — and has acted for more than five decades.
He dubbed himself "The Greatest of All Time," and is widely renowned as one of the best heavyweight boxers to ever grace the ring. An Olympic gold medalist, his controversial choice to embrace Islam and change his name in 1964, as well as refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam war, were problematic for his career (similar to Kitt's concerns) …
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
… but he returned to the limelight through talent and force of will, beating persecution that traveled all the way to the US Supreme Court before going on to become the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion. Known for his characteristic verbal jabs, often keeping opponents and the media guessing with his quick wit and rejoinders, he was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and "Sports Personality of the Century" by the BBC in 1999. He was a personal friend to El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X). Here's a video showing some of why he's so remarkable.
Successful lawyer, mother of two and the first Black woman to claim the title First Lady of the United States, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama has become a fashion icon (often willing to wear off-the-rack things from stores everyone can afford) and an advocate for poverty awareness and healthy eating (teaching you how to Dougie in the photo above). She met her husband when he was a summer associate and she was assigned to mentor him. They've stood as a testament to hard work and sticking it out. She's been named an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and she's been named among "10 of the World's Best Dressed people" by Vanity Fair, and is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.
Brother J from X Clan
The fluid vocals of Brooklyn-bred Brother J led the Afrocentric rap group X Clan to national prominence from their 1990 debut, To The East, Blackwards. Sporting leather crowns adorned with ancient Egyptian imagery, "verbsticks" (African walking staffs) and culturally-themed medallions, they stood for a kind of stylized Black consciousness based in both political rhetoric and historical reverence. Je went on to fom a group called Dark Sun Riders (referencing some of his X Clan lyrics along the way) but returned to claim the group with members of both Dark Sun Riders and west coast underground luminaries DJ Fatjack and dancer Zulu (formerly from Abstract Tribe Unique). His funk-based musical choices and lyrical dexterity crafted amazing selections, and we'll just share one of the classics with you …
We could have easily built huge posts for each one, chronicling their accomplishments … but we figured it'd be easier to find them all together. An amazing collection of human beings, and today we celebrate all of their lives and legacies.