Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Hillary in the TV show “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” is raising funds for a new animated short about Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina and soloist to ever perform at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. In Collins’ journey, she overcame many great obstacles; at the age 15, the young dancer was asked to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but only if she performed in whiteface.
After refusing to dance in whiteface, Collins went on to become a renowned Prima Ballerina, winning awards for her performances on Broadway. In 1950, Collins was honored with the Best Dancer of Broadway title, making Collins a pioneer in this industry for paving the way for other black dancers and companies such as Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theater of Harlem.
The short story will be narrated by actor/comedian/producer Chris Rock and presented by Parsons’ founded award-winning organization Sweet Blackberry, whose mission is to educate kids on the achievements of African Americans with inspiring true stories.
So far, the project’s Kickstarter page shows 18 days left to go in the campaign, with over $16,000 already pledged of its $75,000 goal.
For more information on Sweet Blackberry, click here to see the Kickstarter video and contribute!
The prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s first black soloist in twenty years took the stage last week, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in the unlikely, groundbreaking life of ballerina Misty Copeland. The 30-year-old beauty starred in ‘Le Corsaire’ at the Metropolitan Opera House from June 4-8, but her star turn is just one of a string of firsts and a fascinating life story she brings along with her.
For starters, Copeland, a native of San Pedro, California, grew up in extreme poverty. She didn’t even know what ballet was when she was spotted by an instructor at her local Boys and Girls Club at 13. Which brings up another unlikely fact in Copeland’s life—she didn’t even begin training in ballet until her early teen years.
‘I had no introduction to the arts in any way definitely not the fine arts,’ Copeland told the New York Post of her childhood, part of which was spent living out of a motel room with her mother. ‘Survival was our Number 1 priority, not extracurriculars, or a career,’ she said. ‘These were not things we thought about.’ She was destined, however, to think a lot about those things. In fact, she would soon be thinking of nothing but.
A ballet instructor named Cynthia Bradley spotted Copeland’s potential and told her she was ‘You are the most gifted dancer I’ve ever seen, and this could be a path to have a career.’ And that’s what it became. But at 13, Copeland was at a major disadvantage. Whereas most ballerinas start at the age of 5, with money and eager parents backing them. Copeland was not so lucky.
Marian Anderson, who became one of the most celebrated singers during the 20th century, was born on Feb. 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, PA. She began singing in church at 6 years old. Impressed by Anderson’s dedication to perfecting her talents, her church choir raised money for her to take vocal lessons for two years. Anderson soon won a chance to perform at Lewisohn Stadium in New York, and more opportunities followed.
President Franklin Roosevelt and wife Eleanor invited her to perform at the White House in 1936. In 1939, she faced discrimination from the Daughters of the American Revolution, who did not want her to perform at D.C.’s Constitution Hall. When Eleanor Roosevelt heard of this, she invited Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial.
The singer made history in 1955 as the first African-American to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. Anderson passed away at the age of 96 in 1993.