Obituary for Honoring the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou
Dr. Maya Angelou was born to Vivian Baxter and Bailey Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. She passed to her Heavenly Reward quietly on May 28, 2014 in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is survived by her son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren, a nephew, a niece, grandnieces, great-grandnieces, grandnephews, great-grandnephews and a host of beloveds.
From the time she was a child, Dr. Angelou proved that she was a unique individual with amazing commitment and focus. The birth of her son when she was seventeen did not prevent her from continuing in pursuit of her dreams for a creative career. From her start as a singer in San Francisco’s Purple Onion and Hungry I in 1953 to the installation of her portrait in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2014, she was continuously on a dramatic, musical or political stage.
She was a dancer, a singer, an actress, a poet, a writer, a magazine editor, a playwright, a film director as well as a college lecturer, full Professor and a fearless, outspoken activist. She never let her various vocations inhibit her activism or her willingness to speak out against injustice and inequality. She performed in a number of major productions. She was in both the 1954 International Touring Company and the subsequent movie of Porgy and Bess. She was also in the 1977 television series of Alex Haley’s Roots and in the 1995 film How to make an American Quilt. She was in too many other productions to name. She directed the films Georgia, Georgia and Down in the Delta.
Her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1970. She went on to write thirty-three other books including autobiographies, poetry and essays. A number of her works were best sellers and were published in number of languages.
Throughout her life Dr. Angelou’s activism never flagged or waned. In 1959, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she headed the New York office of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Next, she worked for the Arab Observer News Magazine in Cairo, Egypt, which was the premiere English language magazine in the Middle East. Later she moved to Ghana and met Malcolm X. She returned to the United States to work for him, but he was assassinated four days after her arrival in New York. She continued to be a voice of humanity, speaking out against anything that fettered the human spirit. Her life and her body of literary work trumpet the importance of love, tolerance and forgiveness. She was a warrior for truth, justice and love.
The preceding obituary was provided by the family of Dr. Maya Angelou.
Her website is www.mayaangelou.com
In lieu of gifts, the family has asked for donations to the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity through Wake Forest - http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE/
Life Story for Honoring the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou
Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
Born on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.
As a teenager, Dr. Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage.
In 1954 and 1955, Dr. Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.
In 1960, Dr. Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana's School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.
During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity.
Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and the organization dissolved. Soon after X's assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Dr. Angelou to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King's assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.
With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 bestselling titles.
A trailblazer in film and television, Dr. Angelou wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Her script, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
She continues to appear on television and in films including the landmark television adaptation of Alex Haley's Roots (1977) and John Singleton's Poetic Justice (1993). In 1996, she directed her first feature film, Down in the Delta. In 2008, she composed poetry for and narrated the award-winning documentary The Black Candle, directed by M.K. Asante.
Dr. Angelou has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and has received 3 Grammy Awards. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Dr. Angelou's reading of her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" was broadcast live around the world.
Dr. Angelou has received over 50 honorary degrees and is Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
Dr. Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir our souls, energize our bodies, liberate our minds, and heal our hearts.