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Jean Grae

Raised From Musical Roots

Jean Grae was born Tsidi Ibrahim in Capetown, South Africa, in 1976 to Abdullah Ibrahim, a world-renowned jazz pianist, and Sathima Bea Benjamin, a jazz singer. Both of her parents traveled worldwide, performing with legends such as bandleader Duke Ellington. Regardless of their musical stature, Ibrahim and Benjamin were blacks during the dawning of apartheid in South Africa, and therefore second-class citizens. In protest, they joined the African National Congress (ANC)—the anti-apartheid party led by Nelson Mandela—but when the ANC was legally banned in 1960, the Ibrahims found themselves facing possible arrest. As oppression increased, they decided to go into exile.

Grae and her family arrived in New York City in 1977. The Ibrahim household became a destination for both exiled South Africans and worldclass musicians. "I grew up in a home full of music," Grae recalled on her Web site. As independent artists, both Ibrahim and Benjamin struggled to stay true to their musical identities while forging careers. "I remember [my mother] doing her press kits and taking me around to the pressing plants to press up her own records and start her own label, to be independent and make the music she wanted to do," Grae told Jive Magazine.

Grae's mother taught her to read by the age of three, setting off a life-long love of reading and writing. The cover photo for Grae's 2004 album, This Week, featured her surrounded by books, writing. Grae also began dance classes at a very young age. At 13, she became the youngest dancer ever to earn a spot with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, the second company of the famed modern dance company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Meanwhile, Grae excelled in school, soaring through an advanced junior high program and landing in the LaGuardia School of the Arts as a vocal major where she learned to read and arrange music. By the age of 16, she felt she had learned enough and, with her mother's support, she dropped out. After earning a GED, she took a six-month music engineering course and then enrolled in New York University as a music business major. After two months, Grae quit, telling herself, "I've lived this all my life...why is my family going to waste the money on this?," she recalled on her Web site.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographyJean Grae Biography - Raised From Musical Roots, Forged Career Of Cameos, Found Limited Recognition, Maximum Frustration, Poised To Become Future Rap Star - Selected discography