Yes, its been a while, and I am finally back with another installment to my blog series about the history of the black pin up!
A few weeks ago a work colleague who has been following my blog posts lent me a fantastic book titled 'Vintage Black Glamour' and I thought this would be a great way to ease back into the subject and refresh our minds a little about the whole world of hidden pin ups including, dancers, burlesque stars, actresses and performers who have been neglected or sidelined by the mainstream because of the colour of their skin. (If you haven't seen them already, take a look at my past posts to read more in depth about this subject).
Picking up this book for the first time I was immediately bowled over by the amount of beautiful photographs that fill it; page after page of stunning women with incredible stories. It confirmed my feelings that this rich history has been largely ignored and marginalised throughout the decades in favour of more widely acceptable and lucrative white mainstream glamour. However just one glance will affirm that there was a WHOLE lot of black talent out there making waves
Sara Lou Harris, one of the first black models to appear in national print advertisements, being photographed by twin brothers Morgan and Marvin Smith (late 1940's)
The book is broken down into chapters covering black glamour in many different guises; Pin ups and Hollywood Starlets, Beauty and Fashion Entrepreneurs, Scandalous Glamour, Jazz Singers, Musicians, Writers, Movie Stars and Theatre and TV Pioneers to name but a few! Yet the thing that makes the book so much more than just a roll call of names and faces is that the author's aunt was a successful black performer who had inspired her to delve deeper into the lives of other black performers giving her a direct link to this little known or forgotten world.
Margaret Tynes was an international singer of jazz, opera and theatre who found professional acclaim for her portrayal of Salome in the early 60's and had a career spanning 50 years. Known to the author as the 'diva in the family' Tynes had a phenomenal success working with names like Duke Ellington and Harry Belafonte.
Margaret Tynes (far left) with Duke Ellington and Joya Sherrill posing for TV special based on Ellington's suite, A Drum is a Woman
Taking Tynes lead, the rest of the book is 'a visual tribute to some of the glamorous, accomplished and often groundbreaking black women - both legendary and obscure- of the 20th Century'. Here is just a taster of the remarkable women and hidden pin ups filling these pages...
This stunning photo is of a woman named Selika Lazevski taken in 1891. It gives me all kinds of thrills; She is SO statuesque and poised, and the fact we are seeing an historic photo of a black woman in contemporary costume is unusual. The book had little to say about her, but upon doing a little research I found that Selika was a French horsewoman who performed high level dressage riding sidesaddle at circuses and hippodromes.
Known as 'Acquanetta' during her career and hailed as the 'Venezuelan Volcano' this actress's origins are full of mystery. Accounts differ with the white press stating that she was born as 'Burnu Acquanetta' meaning Burning Fire/Deep Water, of Native American descent from the Arapaho tribe, while the black press said that she actually born as 'Mildred Davenport' from Norristown Pennsylvania. It seems like a case of catering to different audiences with the most acceptable story and a shame that the actress couldn't embrace her true identity whichever that was. In possibly alluding to a more mysterious heritage Acquanetta was able to gain film roles that would have been denied to black actresses in the 1940's.
Barbara Ncnair was the first African Ameircan woman to host her own variety show on television from 1969 - 1971. She was a singer and actor who had starred on Broadway and had hit records, her career spanned 50 years. I found a great video of her singing a duet with Dean Martin on her show, both performed beautifully while Dean smoked a cigarette on stage, how times have changed.
'No one looked like her'. Donyale Luna was a model who was described as 'an extraordinary species' and was the first black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue in 1966. Luna also appeared in several Andy Warhol films during the 1960's and has remained as an icon of other worldly beauty within popular culture despite her early death at the age of 33
Finally just I love this photo of another of the authors aunts, this time Mildred Taylor pictured here on the left with her friend Queen Esther James during their modelling days in Newark New Jersey in the early 1950's. They both look gorgeous!
I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in vintage glamour, black history or old Hollywood and the entertainment industry. There are so many stories of famous and little known black women and I found every one of them fascinating, like filling in little pieces in the jigsaw of my knowledge.