Maya Angelou

Transcendent as an actor, teacher, writer, civil rights activist and much more, African-American Renaissance woman Maya Angelou was a potent mixture of the spiritual and the earthy who inspired millions with her multifaceted career. Tall (6') and proud, with a laugh as large as her formidable presence, she possessed the innate and compelling grace of a woman who had constructed a full life, one lived without concession or false excuse. Her feet, tough and covered with calluses, testified to her years studying under Martha Graham and dancing with Alvin Ailey, and her exuberance caused her to break spontaneously into song, revealing the voice of the nightclub performer and calypso singer of her first feature film, "Calypso Heat Wave" (1957). Long one of the country's most sought-after speakers, she first gained widespread critical attention for her autobiographical "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1969), recounting the story of her rape at the age of eight and the five years of silence that ensued, during which she listened intensely and found the unique voice of the poet she was born to be. Upon her death on May 28, 2014, the United States and the world as a whole mourned the loss of a singular artistic and humanitarian vision.