Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Black Entertainment History: Florence Mills

Florence Mills (1896-1927). Originally from Washington, D.C. this talented daughter of former slaves is noted as the first black international superstar of the 20th century. Performing in talent shows since the age of 4, Mills early career really began after her family moved to Harlem in 1905. There she began performing professionally in Harlem's Vaudeville circuit.

1910, she and her older sisters form the Mills Sisters and tour widely. Once the trio breaks up, Mills then performs for several years with other girl groups until her big break in 1921. That's when she is cast as the lead in Shuffle Along, a black musical that does very well on Broadway. 1924, Mills unique voice and dancing talents lead her to success again on The Great White Way in Dixie to Broadway, another black musical. From the show I'm a Litte Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird becomes her trademark song and earns her the nickname, "Blackbird".

When her new show, titled Blackbirds takes Europe by storm in 1926, Florence Mills becomes an international superstar officially with top billing every where it plays. But a year later health issues began to slow her down and Mills is warned to get medical attention. Unfortunately, by the time she does her tuberculosis-related illness is untreatable. 1927 she dies in Harlem and her funeral draws the biggest crowd of mourners the city had ever seen. Black Beauty, is composed by Duke Ellington in her honor.



Drop Me Off In Harlem

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