So Long As I Can Sing and Dance
"I belong to a race that sings and dances as it breathes. I don't care where I am so long as I can sing and dance." -- Florence Mills.
Florence Mills was born Florence Winfrey on this day in 1895, in either Washington, D.C. or Virginia.
The first African-American singer/dancer to headline at the New York Palace Theatre, Mills conquered Broadway before it was acceptable for African-Americans to appear in big time venues. Possessed of a high, quavery voice, she enchanted audiences with her brightness and elegant bearing as the star of Sissle and Blake's groundbreaking revue Shuffle Along in 1921. In 1926, Mills starred in Blackbirds, first in New York and subsequently in Paris (where it was Paris' first-ever all-black revue) -- a show that the Prince of Wales, for one, is said to have seen over 20 times.
She died on November 1, 1927 at the age of 32 while hospitalized for an appendectomy. As her funeral cortege marched down Seventh Avenue, a plane flew overhead, dipped its wings, and released a flock of bluebirds in tribute to her.
Categories: Theater, New-York-City, Paris