Friday August 7, 2021’s Smile of the Day: First Olympic Gold Medal Awarded to a Black Woman

On this Day:

In 1948, the American Alice Coachman became the first black woman from any country to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the high jump at the London Games.

Alice Coachman Davis (November 9, 1923 – July 14, 2014) was an American athlete. She specialized in high jump and was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Alice Coachman was born on November 9, 1923, in Albany, Georgia. She was the fifth of Fred and Evelyn Coachman’s ten children. Coachman was unable to access athletic training facilities or participate in organized sports because of the color of her skin. Added to the list of training barriers was her status as a female athlete during a time of widespread opposition to women in sports. She trained using what was available to her, running shoeless along the dirt roads near her home and using homemade equipment to practice her jumping.

Coachman attended Monroe Street Elementary School where she was encouraged by her fifth-grade teacher Cora Bailey and by her aunt, Carrie Spry, despite the reservations of her parents. Upon enrolling at Madison High School in 1938, she joined the track team, working with Harry E. Lash to develop her skill as an athlete. Within a year she drew the attention of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama.

In 1939 she joined the Tuskegee Preparatory School at the age of 16 after being offered a scholarship. The scholarship required her to work while studying and training, which included cleaning and maintaining sports facilities as well as mending uniforms.

Coachman went on to graduate with a degree in dressmaking from the Tuskegee Institute in 1946. The following year she continued her studies at Albany State College, receiving a B.S. in Home Economics with a minor in science in 1949. She became a teacher and track-and-field instructor.

Prior to arriving at the Tuskegee Preparatory School, Coachman competed in the Amateur Athletic Union’s (AAU) Women’s National Championships breaking the college and National high jump records while competing barefoot. Her unusual jumping style was a combination of straight jumping and western roll techniques.

Coachman dominated the AAU outdoor high jump championship from 1939 through 1948, winning ten national championships in a row. In addition to her high jump accomplishments, she won national championships in the 50-meter dash, the 100-meter dash and with the 400-meter relay team as a student at the Tuskegee Institute. During the same period, Coachman won three conference championships playing as a guard on the Tuskegee women’s basketball team. Despite being in her prime, Coachman was unable to compete in the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games as they were canceled because of World War II. In the opinion of sportswriter Eric Williams, “Had she competed in those canceled Olympics, we would probably be talking about her as the No. 1 female athlete of all time.”

Coachman’s first opportunity to compete on a global stage was during the 1948 Olympic Games in London. She qualified for the US Olympic team with a high jump of 5 feet 4 inches breaking the previous 16-year-old record by ¾ of an inch. In the high jump finals of the 1948 Summer Olympics, Coachman leaped 1.68 m (5  ft 6⅛ in) on her first try. Her nearest rival, Great Britain’s Dorothy Tyler, matched Coachman’s jump, but only on her second try. Coachman was the only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics in 1948. Her medal was presented by King George VI.

Upon her return to the United States after the Olympics, Coachman had become a celebrity. Soon after meeting President Harry Truman and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she was honored with parades from Atlanta to Albany and was thrown a party by Count Basie. In 1952 she became the first African-American woman to endorse an international product when she was signed as a spokesperson by the Coca-Cola Company who featured her prominently on billboards alongside 1936 Olympic winner Jesse Owens. In her hometown, Alice Avenue, and Coachman Elementary School were named in her honor. 

Coachman’s athletic career ended when she was 24. She dedicated the rest of her life to education and to the Job Corps.

Coachman died in Albany, Georgia on July 14, 2014, of cardiac arrest after suffering through respiratory problems. She had a stroke a few months prior for which she received treatment from a nursing home. She had two children during her first marriage to N. F. Davis, which ended in divorce. Her second husband, Frank Davis, preceded her in death.

In 1979 Coachman was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. During the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Coachman was honored as one of the 100 greatest Olympians. She was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, inducted in 1998 In 2002, she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project. Coachman was also inducted to the USA Track and Field Hall of fame in 1975 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.

Coachman has received recognition for opening the door for future African-American track stars such as Evelyn Ashford, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. In fact, in the years since her display of Olympic prowess, black women have made up a majority of the US women’s Olympic track and field team. “I think I opened the gate for all of them,” she reflected. “Whether they think that or not, they should be grateful to someone in the black race who was able to do these things.” (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Did you hear about the woman who invented a more efficient way to set up the high jump and pole vault?  She raised the bar.

Second, a Song:

The Pointer Sisters is an American R&B singing group from Oakland, California, that achieved mainstream success during the 1970s and 1980s. Their repertoire has included such diverse genres as pop, disco, jazz, electronic music, bebop, blues, soul, funk, dance, country, and rock. The Pointer Sisters have won three Grammy Awards and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. The group had 13 US top 20 hits between 1973 and 1985.

The group had its origins when sisters June and Bonnie Pointer began performing in clubs in 1969 as “Pointers, a Pair”. The line-up grew to a trio when sister Anita joined them. They got a record deal with Atlantic Records and released several unsuccessful singles. The trio grew to a quartet when sister Ruth joined in December 1972. They then signed with Blue Thumb Records, recorded their debut album, and began seeing more success, winning a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best Country Vocal Performance for “Fairytale” (1974). Bonnie left the group in 1978 to commence a solo career with modest success.

The group achieved its greatest commercial success in the 1980s as a trio consisting of June, Ruth, and Anita. They won two more Grammys on 1984 for the top 10 hits “Automatic” and “Jump (For My Love).” The group’s other U.S. top 10 hits are “Fire” (1979), “He’s So Shy” (1980), “Slow Hand” (1981), the remixed version of “I’m So Excited” (1984), and “Neutron Dance” (1985).

June Pointer, the youngest sister, struggled with drug addiction for much of her career, leaving the group in April 2004 prior to her death from cancer in April 2006, at the age of 52. She was replaced by Ruth’s daughter Issa Pointer. This trio had a number two hit in Belgium in 2005, covering “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” with Belgian singer Natalia. Between 2009 and 2015, the group consisted of Anita, Ruth, Issa, and Ruth’s granddaughter Sadako Pointer. While all four women remained in the group, they most often performed as a trio rotating the lineup as needed. In 2015, Anita was forced to retire due to ill health, leaving Ruth the sole member of the original sibling line-up.

In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked them as the 80th most successful dance artists of all-time. In December 2017, Billboard ranked them as the 93rd most successful Hot 100 Artist of all-time[3] and as the 32nd most successful Hot 100 Women Artist of all-time.

Jump (For My Love)” is a song by American vocal group the Pointer Sisters, released on April 11, 1984, as the third single from their tenth studio album Break Out (1983). The song hit the Top Ten in Billboard’s Hot 100, R&B and dance charts, and it was the best-selling American dance single of 1984, sold as a trio of songs including “I Need You” and “Automatic”. The song scored global chart success.

Girls Aloud remade the song as “Jump” (with no subtitle), achieving international success in 2003–2004.

“Jump (For My Love)” was co-written by regular collaborators Marti Sharron, Gary Skardina and Stephen Mitchell. Skardina and Mitchell were responsible for the chord progressions, melody and arrangement while Sharron’s focus was on the lyrics and melody. According to Sharron the instrumental track for the demo of “Jump” was completed before the lyrics: on first hearing the playback of the instrumental track in the studio (Marti Sharron quote:) “My partners and I…were so happy with the results we jumped up and down” which led to the song being completed to be entitled “Jump”. (The subtitle “For My Love” was eventually added to differentiate the song from the Van Halen #1 hit “Jump”.) Sharron recalls phoning Richard Perry, who was producing the Pointer Sisters’ upcoming album, and telling him: “I have the album’s big hit” and – although Perry considered giving the song to Julio Iglesias, Perry being a contributing producer to the singer’s 1100 Bel Air Place album – “Jump” did become the final song slated for the Pointer Sister’s 1983 album release Break Out.

Despite typifying the overall sound of Break Out, “Jump (For My Love)” was passed over as the album’s lead single in favor of the ballad “I Need You,” which Perry felt would reinforce the Pointer Sisters’ presence at R&B radio, and although originally scheduled as the album’s second single, “Jump…” was superseded by another Break Out track: “Automatic”, which had enjoyed heavy radio and dance club airplay as an album cut. “Automatic” returned the Pointer Sisters to the Pop Top Ten after a three-year absence; however, “Jump…” became the most successful US single off of Break Out upon its release as the album’s third single in April 1984. The song ascended to a peak of #3 on both the Hot 100 and R&B chart in Billboard magazine that July, with the track also charting on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart at #11.

“Jump (For My Love)” would afford the Pointer Sisters an international hit, charting in Belgium (#3 on the Flemish chart), West Germany (#20), Ireland (#2), the Netherlands (#9), New Zealand (#3), Switzerland (#13), and the UK (#6). In Australia, “Jump…” was issued as the lead single off Break Out in December 1983 and peaked at #79: reissued after “Automatic,” it would reach an Australian chart peak of #8 in September 1984. The Australian single release of “Jump” was also unique in featuring as B-side the Break Out track “Operator” with Anita Pointer on lead; in other territories, “Heart Beat”, a track with Ruth Pointer on lead introduced on the Pointer Sisters previous album So Excited!, was utilized as the B-side of “Jump (For My Love).” Released prior to the 1984 Summer Olympics, the song’s video featured footage of athletes competing in track and field events, as well as NBA stars Julius Erving and Magic Johnson.

The Pointer Sisters were awarded the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Jump…”, and co-writer Stephen (Steve) Mitchell received his nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1985 for his musical performance as the principal musician on the song’s recording.

At the 1985 ASCAP Pop Awards, “Jump (For My Love)” received “Most Performed Song” honors for songs in the ASCAP repertory during the 1984 ASCAP Survey Year.

“Jump (For My Love)” is published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Anidraks Music, Inc., and Stephen Mitchell Music, Inc (per Wikipedia).

Here are the Pointer Sisters performing “Jump (For My Love) in the recording which features footage of athletes competing in track and field events, as well as NBA stars Julius Erving and Magic Johnson.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I’ve always believed that I could do whatever I set my mind to do.” – Alice Coachman

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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