AFRO Spotlight: Looking Back on 130 Years of Entertainment and Culture

by Kara Thompson,
AFRO only

The U.S. entertainment and media industry is the world’s largest at $660 billion, according to the Global Media & Entertainment Team of the Bureau of International Trade Controls. With a market this big, it’s no wonder news publications, including AFRO, cover the people, works and content of the entertainment industry.

AFRO is unique in that since its inception in 1892, it has provided continuous coverage of the industry and how it impacted black culture and black freedom.

Many of the first “entertainment” articles published by AFRO were actually detailed accounts of African-American culture and life. The column contained sermon notes from a local church honoring his AFRO origins as a church newsletter. The work also covered various events in the community, such as a benefit concert held in 1896 at Provident Hospital, a black medical facility.

On January 14, 1961, AFRO reported on a concert called the Civil Rights Movement at Carnegie Hall. The event featured Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Mahalia Jackson and Count Basie. The vent was hosted by singer Sammy Davis Jr. and writer Maya Angelou. (Photo credit: AFRO Archives)

Ultimately, coverage of mainstream music, theater, and film came to the fore. It’s what comes to mind when you think of the entertainment industry today. AFRO has taken acts large and small to capture a true picture of African-American life at every point since 1892.

An example is the May 1925 article about Ubi Blake and his musical style, “Ubi Blake Returns Home with a ‘Hot’ Gang”. The story lists the names of Blake’s most popular songs, along with a biography of The Thistle and the Dundies, the band Blake was traveling with at the time. The article also details other entertainment acts that were slated to hit Washington DC’s Ford Theater soon.

In March 1938, AFRO printed a photograph of Hampton Institute Creative Dance Group star Frank O. Roberts in costume at Douglas High School. The dance group created the entertainment section of the newspaper after giving audiences a taste of Africa with performances involving stilts.

Today, in addition to music, theater and film, AFRO covers museum exhibits, book reviews and up-and-coming figures in the fashion industry.

Focus on Jim Crow

Social justice-centric entertainment has been a constant source of content for AFRO. Artists have a long tradition of using platforms to raise funds and awareness of civil and human rights issues that affect race.

AFRO has made history by highlighting black artists, performers, actors, writers and singers such as Sammy Davis, Alex Haley, Marion Anderson and Harry Belafonte.

Shown here is an AFRO entertainment page from March 26, 1938. Coverage that week included the treatment of the All-Blacks her cast of “Porgy and Bess” and her jarboro dilemma escape from Pera singer Katerina, who fled Vienna, Austria. Before Adolf Hitler marched his army into the country. (Photo credit: AFRO Archives)

Jazz singer Billie Holiday sang the poem “Strange Fruit” by teacher and poet Abel Myelopol in 1939. Her record drew attention to the horrific reality of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow influences, the lynchings used to terrorize black Americans seeking equal citizenship.

In 1960, AFRO covered how choreographer Larry Steele purchased NAACP memberships for all of the performers on his show Smart Affairs. This was a common practice for Steele who purchased memberships to the organization in bulk each year so others could access accurate information about his NAACP and its resources.

From Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” to the posthumous 2016 Malaika Aminata documentary “Not About a Riot” after Freddie Gray’s death, AFRO hopes that artists will use their technology to explore black life in the United States. has covered making a statement about

As founder John H. Murphy intended, AFRO has continued to capture not only the daily lives of black Americans and their culture, but also how they see themselves through art.

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