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Poet Maya Angelou: The first Black woman on a U.S. coin

The front and back of a U.S. quarter are shown against a red and maroon checkerboard background.
U.S. Mint
Coin featuring poet Maya Angelou

The Maya Angelou quarter is the first in the American Women Quarters Program, which honor prominent women in U.S. history.

Maya Angelou, the beloved poet who started her career as a calypso singer, is featured on the first in a series of quarters honoring America's most remarkable women.

A poet, writer, actor and activist, Angelou died in 2014. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry and is credited with a list of plays, movies and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 30 honorary degrees.

In the late 1950s, Angelou began her performance career as a calypso singer known as "Miss Calypso." Her friend, jazz icon Billie Holiday, told her in 1958, "You're going to be famous, but it won't be for singing."

Angelou's poetry continues to be an inspiration to musicians across all genres. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis included her "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" on his Buckshot LeFonque album because it was his mother's favorite. Singer-songwriter Ben Harper took Angelou's poem "And Still I Rise" and fashioned it into the anthem "I'll Rise."

In 2007, Angelou collaborated with Wynton Marsalis on the piece “Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul," which traces the lineage of African American music.

Maya Angelou and Wynton Marsalis talking about: “Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul”

Other honorees appearing on the U.S. quarter in this series will include astronaut Sally Ride; actress Anna May Wong; suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.