Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joyce Bryant

Joyce Bryant, ballad singer who was once known as “the black Marilyn Monroe”, was born in Oakland, CA, but raised in San Francisco (the oldest of eight children). She moved to Los Angeles to live with cousins when she was in her late teens. The move came after a disastrous marriage; she eloped at 14 but the marriage ended on the wedding night without consummation. One ofthe most beautiful black women in entertainment and called the “Blonde Bronze Bombshell”. Married at 14 (quickly divorced) she did her early recordings for Okeh Records and at the height of her career commanded $3,500.00 a gig, making as much as $250,000 a year on the nightclub circuit during the early 1950s. Known for her amazing four octave voice, stunning beauty, hour-glass figure, provocative outfits, Joyce Bryant was the ultimate show stopper. Legend has it, when she was to appear on a bill with Josephine Baker, Joyce decided not to be outdone by LaBaker’s ultra-glamerous presence. Wanting to distinguish herself in the legend’s presence, Bryant draped a floor length silver mink coat over a skin tight silver gown, painted her nails silver, and colored her hair silver with radiator spray paint, a choice that would become her signature. The singer told jet magazine she first came up with the look on Easter Sunday while living in Los Angeles. Having agreed to perform at a benefit concert, she was dead broke with no money to buy an Easter hat when, and so she “grabbed the can of radiator paint” and “happened to have a silver dress” and the when she walked on stage to sing she met “wild applause”. She had to wash the paint out with paint thinner, but ever since then, chose to keep her hair tinted silver. Etta James said in an interview “I liked Joyce Bryant, because she wore fishtail gowns, sequined fishtail gowns, and she was black, and she had the nerve to wear platinum hair) but also badly damaged her hair. Consideed by Ebony Magazine to be one of the five most beautiful women in Hollywood (including Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge) she was featured in a photo spread in Life Magazine, was often photographed schmoozing with Hollywood stars like Lana Turner and was on Otto Preminger’s A-list for the role of Carmer Jones (a role that eventually went to Dorothy Dandridge). Bryant brief career suffered extreme highs and lows. The first african american performer to book the segregated Aladdin Room at the ritzy Algiers Hotel in Miami Beach, she faced racism when she wasn’t allowed to do a photo shoot mingling with the Hotel’s guests anywhere in the hotel except on the nightclub where she was to perform and was not allowed to stay at the hotel (she stayed at the all black Lord Colvert hotel). Also during that performance, the Ku Klux Klan burned her in effigy. She was once badly beaten in her dressing room by an admirer whose advances she thwarted and in 1952, badly injured in a freak accident in a taxi cab that tore through her face. After a bout with alcohol and drug addiction, and owing the IRS $60,000, Bryant found herself torn between stardom and her religious faith. By 1955 she quit show business, entered Oak Wood College (a 7th Day Adventist school in Huntsville Atlanta) and became an evangelist. Briefly she returned to the concert stage touring Europe singing opera in German, Russian, Italian, and French and in the late 70s, attempted to revamp her earlier career with a long engagement at Cleo’s nightclub in New York (across from Lincoln Center). Jim Byers, WPFW-FM broadcaster and marketing director for the Arlington Cultural Affairs Division, tracked her down and requested permission to become her biographer. Byers’ research has inspired Joyce Bryant: The Lost Diva, a documentary-in-progress that he and videographer and archivist Robert Farr, executive producer for Arlington Information Channel 31, began shooting last year.

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