Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Vintage Black Burlesque!

1920's NYC Chorus Line source: LASCA SARTORIS blog
 As you may know I a have a love of burlesque. From the broader elements of vaudeville to the glamorous ensembles and clever routines, I am enchanted. In the last few years I have sought out vintage images of gorgeous pin ups and burlesque performers who looked more like me. I have to say, it's hard work finding the history of Black pin ups and burlesque performers! So I wanted to share some of the fab resources and pics I managed to find. 

You will find a fabulous collection of vintage images of women of color on LASCA SARTORIS, a tumblr blog
Ada Overton Walker

Josephine Baker Postcard

La “Revue Nègre” in Nelson-Theater,Berlin,1932 by Hans Robertson 

With burlesque once again becoming mainstream entertainment mainstream Black publications like Ebony are chronicling Black history in the genre: 

African-American women have been performing burlesque in its various incarnations since at least the late 19th century. Early performances could best be described as R-rated variety shows, blending satire and politically commentary (think Colbert Report-style humor) with musical numbers and a bit of raciness. In 1890,The Creole Show debuted featuring sisters draped in lavish costumes, showing off their legs, and even cross-dressing in skits that provided smart social commentary on American culture. Stars of the show included Ada Overton Walker, Stella Wiley, Dora Dean and Belle Davis, who would go on to star in Oriental America, a dazzling spectacle mocking the exotification of African-American and Asian women, illustrating the hypocrisy of America’s policies in the Far East, and the enforcement of Jim Crow laws stateside. And yes, they looked gorgeous while doing it. source: 

40's Star Madeline "Sahji" Jackson. Watch Sahji perform here.

Lottie the Body has a great succinct page on burlesque in harlem: 

Black Burlesque was never as much at the fringe of entertainment as it was for white burlesque. It held longer to the Vaudeville traditions with Harlem Renaissance associations. Burlesque showgirls were part of Cab Calloway's troupe & were featured regularly at the Cotton Club & the Savoy Ballroom & the Apollo Theater.

Famous burlesque producer Billy Minsky called what went on in Harlem "progressive burlesque," & it's what he tried to do when he had a star with the break-out potential of Gypsy Rose Lee.  

Jean Idell, specialized in the art of the fan dance 

Toni Elling
Lastly another great resource for researching specific people, topics and events or for just looking back in time is Jet Magazine which is online in its entirety thanks to Google Books. 

Jet issues from 1952 into the 70's make for a fascinating read in my opinion. Jet chronicles pop culture and topical news, events essentially modern history week by week, a fabulous resource. Many a shake dancer or exotic dancer was featured, reported on and/or a covergirl in Jet magazine.

Gloria Howard, aka La Bommie

To keeping these fabulous women and their craft alive and well for years to come.