Posthumously honoring founding faculty members
Dr. John Biggers, an internationally acclaimed painter, sculptor, founder of TSU’s Art program, the teacher and philosopher, explored his own life and heritage through the study of art at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia. Biggers relocated to Houston and established the art department at Texas Southern University, where he served as professor for more than 30 years.Dr. Biggers received a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) fellowship in 1957 that enabled him to become one of the first African American artists to visit Africa. His art was profoundly influenced by his direct contact with the wonder of the continent and its people.Dr. Biggers retired from teaching in 1983 and devoted himself exclusively to his art. The works of John Biggers features prominently in the history of African American art and is included in private collections and museums at home and abroad.
Ollington E. Smith was a noted theater director. Upon completing his service in WWII, Professor Smith joined the faculty at the then Houston College for Negroes. He served as Chairman of the English Department and the first Chairman of the Department of Speech and Drama. Professor Smith later organized the Theater Department at Texas Southern University. Professor Smith founded the Little Theater and later the University named the new structure after him --- The Ollington Smith Playhouse. Professor Smith was also the founder of the University Players at TSU.
Campbell A. “Skeets” Tolbert started playing alto saxophone and clarinet with the university band at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. He left medical school and went to New York in 1932 where he began working as a musician and studying music at Columbia and Julliard. After formal training he became a skilled arranger and composer. While in New York he performed at the Cotton Club and formed his own band in Greenwich Village; the Gentlemen of Swing. The band gained popularity after recording their song WPA; a humorous commentary of the Works Progress Administration. After World War II Mr. Tolbert went back to North Carolina to teach high school band. In 1948, he was asked to join the faculty of Texas Southern University (then Texas State). Tolbert was instrumental in starting a black local musicians union in Houston in 1950, and was president for that union from 1950 to 1965.
Honoring outstanding program alumni
Kermit Oliver, world renowned artist and Texas Southern University graduate, class of 1967, is the first and only African American to design scarves for the House of Hermes, Paris. He has for more than 40 years, painted nature-and myth-inspired portraits and landscapes rooted in his life as a native Texan, earning public recognition while carefully guarding his privacy. His artwork has been exhibited all over the world including places such as: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Hooks-Epstein Galleries, Houston, House of Hermes, Paris to name a few.
Thomas Meloncon, a nationally known Playwright and Poet, is a native of Houston, Texas. He is a proud graduate of Texas Southern University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism and the Master of Arts Degree in Communications in 1999. He is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Texas Southern University in the Department of Fine Arts, who also serves as TSU’s Theatre Coordinator.
Kirk Whalum, a magna cum laude graduate of TSU’s class of 1999, and a former member of the famed TSU Ocean of Soul Marching Band, is a Grammy Award Nominee. He organized his own band and became one of the most popular jazz groups in Houston while still a student. After graduation he became a national recording artist and produced hit after hit. He has performed with various artists including Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross.