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Tue, 11.05.1901

Etta Moten Barnett, Stage Singer born

Etta M. Barnett

On this date in 1901, we mark the birth of Etta Moten Barnett. She was a Black vocalist and theater artist.

She was born in Weimar, TX, the daughter of Freeman (a Methodist minister) and Ida Norman Moten. During her senior year at the University of Kansas, Moten was discovered while singing in a recital, and she was invited to join the Eva Jessy Choir in New York, which she promptly did after graduation. She was married in the 1920s and divorced six years later.

She went on to achieve stardom in the theater, performing in legendary Broadway productions of "Sugar Hill," "Lysistrata," and "Porgy and Bess," joining the ranks of African America's most elite talent, including Sidney Poitier, Cab Calloway, and Maya Angelou.  Moten was the second Black stage and screen star to sing and perform at the White House on January 31, 1933, invited by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1934, Moten married Claude Barnett, founder of the Negro Associated Press. Together they enjoyed a special bond, traveling during the late 1950s as members of the U.S. delegation to Ghana.  She also represented the U.S. at the independent ceremonies of Nigeria, Zambia, and Lusaka.

After her husband's death in 1967, Moten Barnett became more active in domestic affairs, including working with the Chicago's DuSable Museum and the Lyric Opera.

Her many distinctions include honorary degrees from Spelman College, Lincoln University, and the University of Illinois; an award for her contributions to American Music by Clark/Atlanta University, and the establishment of a scholarship in her name for minority students at the Chicago Academy for the Performing Arts. A long-time resident of Chicago, she died on Jan. 3, 2004.

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