Thomas Mundy Peterson – Thomas Mundy Peterson was the first African-American to vote in an election on March 31, 1870 under the provisions of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Born in Metuchen and the son of a slave, Peterson cast his vote in Perth Amboy in a local election over the town’s charter, which he voted in favor of revising. He was given a medal for making history at the time by local citizens Along with making history as America’s first Black voter. The medal is housed at the historically Black Xavier University of Louisiana. Peterson was also the first Black person in Perth Amboy to serve on a jury.

Ted Hill – The legacy continues with jazz tenor saxophonist, Teddy Hill – the natural father of Melba Moore. A longtime conductor of big bands and jazz orchestras, Hill ceased working as a bandleader in 1940 when he became the manager of the jazz club, Minton’s Playhouse. His selection of talent and encouragement of jam sessions resulted in Minton’s reputation as the birthplace of be-bop.

Paul Robeson – Born in Princeton, Paul Robeson was singer, actor and activist. He became the third African American to enroll at Rutgers University in 1915. While at the school he played for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team and played other sports becoming All-American. Robeson also participated in the debate team and sang in the glee club. He also became active in the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice campaigns. His numerous film roles include Show Boat, The Song of the Rivers and The Emperor Jones

Gertrude Melba Smith – The legacy continues with singer Gertrude Melba Smith, the mother of Melba Moore. Ms. Smith was an R & B singer, born in New Orleans. After she moved to the New York City area, Gertrude sang with Teddy Hill’s band. In 1942 she joined the Piccadilly Pipers, a group based in Newark, New Jersey. Her 1942 recording of “Don’t Stop Now” (released under the name Bonnie Davis) for the newly formed Savoy label reach the top position on the Billboard “Harlem Hit Parade,” the precursor to its Rhythm & Blues chart.

Trenton Six – The Trenton Six (Ralph Cooper, Collis English, McKinley Forrest, John McKenzie, James Thorpe, and Horace Wilson) is the group of the six African-American men convicted in August 1948 by an all-white jury sentenced to death for the alleged murder of elderly white shopkeeper  William Horner in Trenton. The Civil Rights Congress and the NAACP had legal teams that represented three men each in appeals to the State Supreme Court. The NAACP claimed that the court’s instruction to the jury, and remanded the case to a lower court for retrial. After several trials, Forrest, McKenzie, Thorpe and Wilson were all acquitted, Cooper pled guilty and was sentenced to life and was paroled in 1954 before disappearing from records and English died in prison.

Clement Moorman – The legacy continues with singer Clement “Clem” Moorman – the stepfather of Melba Moore. His professional music career started at age 13, when he was pianist for the Sunday School of Newark’s Thirteenth Avenue Presbyterian Church. At age 22, he was part of Johnny Jackson’s Society Orchestra, playing at the prestigious Terrace Ballroom at Newark Symphony Hall. He created the house band, The Piccadilly Pipers, for the Piccadilly Club, a notable venue of the Newark jazz scene. Through the ’40s and ’50s, Clem and his bands recorded for the Savoy, Apollo, Decca, and Columbia record labels. His record “Don’t Stop Now” under the band name the Bunny Banks Trio was number one for five weeks on the Harlem Hit

Jacob Lawrence – Famed painter Jacob Lawrence is best known for his portrayal of African-American life in his works. He was the first African-American artist to be represented in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Born in Atlantic City, he was just 23 years old when he gained national recognition with his 60-panel Migration Series. His works have been displayed in several museums including the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

Beau Huggins
Charles Huggins (New Jersey Resident)

The legacy continues with record executive Charles Huggins – the former husband of Melba Moore  – and his brother, producer Beau Huggins. During the ’80s and early ’90s HUSH and Orpheus were highly innovative and top-knotch NYC-based artist management and production companies co-founded by the Huggins brothers with Melba Moore. Their stable of Soul and Urban Jazz stars included among many others Freddie Jackson, Melba Moore, Me’lisa Morgan, Najee and Alex Bugnon. The company was successful through collaborations with NYC prime producers, arrangers and songwriters like Kashif, Rahni Song, Barry Eastmond and Paul Laurence who created the “HUSH Sound” – inspired by The Motown Sound since both companies had staff producers who employed the same musicians for their sessions like Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers. 

Jessie Redmon Fauset – Fredericksville native Jessie Redmon Fauset was a African-American editor, poet, essayist, novelist, and educator. She made tremendous contributions to the Harlem Renaissance with her literary works and literary editor for the NAACP’s magazine The Crisis. Fauset was the first African-American graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls and is considered to be the first black woman accepted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Through her role she discovered several famous Black writers, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay.

Charli Huggins (right) – NYC

Charli Huggins – The legacy continues with Charli Huggins – the daughter of Melba Moore and Charles Huggins. Born Melba Charli Huggins, she currently heads The Gallery Entertainment label – which released the hit album, “Imagine”, for Melba Moore (Charli served as co-executive producer with her uncle, Beau Huggins), as well as the most recent release by jazz saxophonist, Andre Ward (“Africa Rising”)

Count Basie – Famed jazz musician, composer and bandleader Count Basie was born in Red Bank in 1904. He led Count Basie Orchestra anc made significant contributions to jazz music and wrote norable songs including “April in Paris” and “One O’Clock Jump.” In 1958, he became the first African-American to win a Grammy Award in the Best Jazz Performance, Group category for his album The Atomic Mr. Basie. He would go one to earn a total of nine Grammys. Over the course of his 60-year career, Basie released over 35 albums and appeared in eight movies.

Melba Moore – raised in Newark, NJ; Montclair State College alumnus – The legacy continues with the Marvelous Legendary Ms. Melba Moore. The Harlem-born Melba was raised and schooled in Newark NJ – a proud alumnus of Newark Arts High School and Montclair State College (bachelor’s degree in music). Ms. Moore rose from session work as a studio vocalist to being cast in the legendary Broadway musical “Hair” – soon rising to lead actress after the show’s star Diane Keaton left to do movies (Melba was the first Black actress to replace a white lead actress in a Broadway play). Then as Lutibelle in the Broadway hit, “Purlie”, Moore was the first Black stage actress to earn the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress In A Musical. Television soon beckoned (CBS-TV’S “Melba Moore/Clifton Davis Hour”, summer 1972, replacing The Carol Burnett Show – the first Black couple to host a TV variety series) and years later, R&B and dance hits (“This Is It”, “You Stepped Into My Life”). Upon marrying Charles Huggins, he and Melba with Beau Huggins launched Hush Productions – which soon dominated the R&B music scene from the late 1970’s to early 1990’s. Hits came – “Love’s Comin’ At Ya”, “Falling”, “A Little Bit More”, “Mind Up Tonight”. With A-list talent from fellow NJ legend, Dionne Warwick, to hit makers Bobby Brown and Howard Hewitt, Moore recorded what is considered the definitive version of “Lift Every Voice & Sing” – recognized by the USA’s National Registry. Ms. Moore’s latest album, “Imagine”, brought her back to the charts and she’ll soon receive her Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 2023.

Sylvia Dubois – Sylvia Dubois Was an African-American woman born into slavery who became free after striking her slave mistress. Dubois was born in Sourland Mountain, NJ in 1788 she was a slave working at a tavern in Great Bend, Penn. In 1808, history dictates that while scrubbing a floor, Dubois’ slave mistress did not like the work she was doing and hit her. Dubois hit the slave mistress back. She fled to New York but later returned to Great Bend and her master set her free. Dubois then went to New Brunswick to be with her mother. She later inherited Put’s Tavern owned by her grandfather becoming the owner. Dubois lived to be 100 years old and died in Sourland Mountain.

Sybil – The legacy continues with dance/R&B hit maker Sybil – who was signed to Next Plateau Records in the United States. She began recording in 1986 with the release of her first single “Falling in Love”. Sybil soon enjoyed success by remaking Dionne Warwick’s hits “Don’t Make Me Over” and “Walk On By”, which were released in 1989 and 1990, respectively. The former became Sybil’s biggest hit in the US, peaking at No. 20,[2] and was a No. 1 hit in New Zealand. “Walk On By” is still, to date, the highest charting position for this Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic in the UK, peaking at No. 6. In January 1993, Sybil achieved her most successful hit in the UK charts by re-doing Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost” peaking at No. 3. In the US, “The Love I Lost” was released as a double A-side with the Sybil co-penned original “You’re The Love of My Life”.

Donald M. Payne – Congressman Donald M. Payne was the first African American to represent New Jersey in Congress when he was elected in 1989. A native of Newark, Payne was also the first Black president of the National Council of YMCAs in 1970. He first entered politics in in 1972, when he was elected to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders serving three terms. Payne also served three terms on the Newark Municipal Council. During his nearly 25 years in Congress, Payne was a member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and was active on issues relating to Africa and was an advocate of education. Upon his death in 2012 while in office, his son Donald Payne Jr. was elected to his seat. 

Jocelyn Brown – The legacy continues with singer/songwriter Jocelyn Brown, who came from a very musical family. Her aunt, Barbara Roy, sung in the female group Ecstasy, Passion and Pain. Her aunt’s success with Ecstasy, Passion and Pain provided the inspiration for Jocelyn to spread her musical wings. After years of singing in the church, Jocelyn went on to record with many dance music acts – Kleer, Machine, Musique (“Push-Push In The Bush”), Disc-O-Texx’s Top 10 pop hit, “Get Dancin’” – before launching her own solo career, thanks to two classic hits, “I’m Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair)” and the massive smash, “Somebody Else’s Guy.”

Marion Thompson Wright – Marion Thompson Wright became the first African-American woman in the United States to earn her Ph.D. in 1940. Born in East Orange, Wright earned her Ph.D in History from Columbia University. She earned her bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Howard University where she taught after earning her Ph.D. Her dissertation was on “The Education of Negroes in New Jersey,” which was used during Brown v. Board of Education. Speaking from personal experience, Wright attended Barringer High School in Newark where she was one of two Black students at the school at the time.

Gloria Gaynor – The legacy continues with Grammy winning dance music legend and current Gospel vocalist Gloria Gaynor. Born Gloria Fowles, she grew up in a Newark, New Jersey household attuned to a wide range of music. In her mid-teens in 1965, she debuted as Gloria Gaynor with “She’ll Be Sorry,” a low-profile single produced and released by Johnny Nash (who had suggested the name change). After years of nightclub gigs and a brief stint with Columbia Records, Gaynor was scooped up by MGM in 1974 and recorded the disco version of “Never Can Say Goodbye,” first popularized by the Jackson 5 for Motown. “Never Can Say Goodbye” entered the pop chart in November of 1974 and peaked at number nine the following January of 1975. After MGM Records was acquired by Polydor, Gloria recorded her biggest hit, “I Will Survive”, which debuted on the pop chart in December 1978, topped it early the following year, and was awarded a Grammy for Best Disco Recording.

Whitney Houston – Singer and actress Whitney Houston was born in Newark in 1963 and is the most awarded female artist of all time. She is also one of the best-selling music artists of all time selling 200 million records. The daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, Whitney began singing at age age of 11 at New Hope Baptist Church and performed with her mother at nightclubs. Whitney’s self-titled debut album was released in 1985 containing the single “Saving All My Love for You” topping the Billboard charts. She earned a total of seven Grammys. As an actress, Whitney starred in the films The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife. A history maker, Whitney was the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine, the first African-American woman to receive consistent heavy rotation on MTV and first woman in music history to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. She died at the age of 48 in 2012.

Leon Huff – The legacy continues with Leon Huff, co-founder of Philadelphia International Records. Huff was first exposed to music through his mother, who played the piano and the organ for the 19th Street Baptist Church choir. Huff began playing the piano at the age of five; he received basic lessons from his mother as well as formal teaching through the school system and private lessons. As a teenager, Huff participated in several “doo-wop” music groups throughout Camden. By the early 1960’s, Huff had already worked in NYC recording sessions and had composed the 1964 Top 20 Pop hit, “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” for Patti & the Emblems. Returning to Philadelphia, Gamble and Huff formed the labels Excel, Gamble, Huff-Puff and Neptune before launching Philadelphia International Records in 1971 as a joint partnership with Columbia Records. The label produced #1 R&B hits such as The O’ Jays’ “Love Train,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and “TSOP,” which became the theme to the TV show Soul Train. Their signature sound incorporated sophisticated touches like strings, horn sections, and an always-insistent groove. A precursor to disco, when the clubs started playing an important role in the music business, Philadelphia International helped shape the direction with hits like 1974’s “TSOP,” which became the theme to the TV show Soul Train.

Richard Westly – The legacy continues with playwright/screenwriter Richard Westley. He first became known for the 1971 New York Shakespeare Festival of his play Black Terror, which portrayed the story of a black revolution. Wesley received the 1971/1972 Drama Desk Award as most promising playwright for Black Terror. He then went on to author the screenplays for the 1974 film Uptown Saturday Night and the 1975’s Let’s Do It Again, both starring Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. His 1978 play, The Mighty Gents, is the story of the members of a gang that had conquered their rival gang, the Zombies, and ruled the Central Ward of Newark. The play depicts the gang members in their 30s and left with only the recollections of their earlier success. His 1989 play, The Talented Tenth, portrays six fictional graduates of Howard University (a realtor, an advertising agent, a middle manager at a Fortune 500 firm, a Republican) who have succeeded, but feel guilty about betraying their origins. The play received six awards, including dramatic production of the year and best playwright, at the 1989 AUDELCO Recognition Awards. Westley is an associate professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing.

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