Stylist to the Stars L’Toska Powell Passes Away

The Chicago-Sun Times reported that Mrs. L’Toska Powell –stylist to the stars– passed away at 97 years old in Chicago, IL.

L’Toska Powell was there to see the beginnings of African Americans in Hollywood.

The Grenada, Mississippi, native’s family migrated to Chicago, Illinois, 1930’s in search of jobs and a better life. While in Chicago, she was inspired and awed by the thriving Black nightlife that was filled with music, dancing, and glamorous stars. 1930’s Chicago was also home to a growing and bustling mob scene with such crime outfits as the legendary figures as Al Capone and Bugs Moran.

Mrs. Powell was able to carve a niche out of the magnificence of Chicago’s Club DeLisa in the Bronzeville district. African American stars often came through her town and she was able to find an opportunity in doing their hair. Then –as now– few salons would be able to adequately style Black hair, let alone want to do it. She apparently did hair so well that she soon began doing the hair of such stars as Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson and Dinah Washington.

A graduate from Morgan Park High School, Mrs. Powell studied hair styling under Marjorie Joyner, a protege of the famous Madame C.J. Walker, the nation’s first African American millionaire.

Mrs. Powell is also survived by her nieces Pamela Brown and Patricia Cordell, and her cousins Viola Turrett and Opal Nealy.

A viewing will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Carter Funeral Chapels, 2100 E. 75th St., with a funeral service at the chapels at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Burial is at Lincoln Cemetery at 123rd and Kedzie.

Notable Deaths in 2010: Sunset

It was another sad year for film, music and television, as we lost more legends. Here are some notable passings from 2010.

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11-Yr. Old Broadway Actress Shannon Tavarez Passes Away

Shannon Tavarez was a multi-talented young singer/dancer/performer who recently played the Young Nala in “The Lion King” on Broadway. According to Broadway World and People.com, she was battling acute myeloid leukemia. Shannon was only 11 years old and had recently received an umbilical-cord transplant after a bone marrow match could not be found.

She attended Harlem School of the Arts and won her role through an audition at the Apollo Theater.

Read more about this short, but remarkable life:

OBITUARY: Jazz musican, singer and actress Abbey Lincoln dies at 80

The phenomenal, multi-talented pianist, singer, actress and activist Abbey Lincoln passed away at the age of 80 years old.

Known in her later years for her Civil Rights activism, she was often compared to another firebrand jazz artist, Nina Simone. Abbey Lincoln, however, did not start as a musician or singer.

Her talents were first noticed by the Black press as a fashion model who graced Black magazines in cosmetic ads. Her beauty often distracted people from taking her seriously, especially when she transitioned her career from model to actress.

Her first role was in the highly acclaimed, independent film “Nothing But a Man,” starring alongside fellow actor Ivan Dixon –an actor later known for his work on television’s “Hogan’s Heroes.” Ms. Lincoln’s understated portrayal of a privileged Black, middle-classed school teacher in a rural, country town who falls for an itinerant migrant worker with big dreams propelled her to other roles, including the lead role in “For the Love of Ivy,” co-starring Sidney Poitier. She continued acting until she fell in love with Bebop pioneer and jazz drummer and activist Max Roach, in the late-1950’s. They soon married, and her career was changed to one of activism and jazz.

They divorced in 1970, but Ms. Lincoln continued her music career, influencing other musicians and creating music that was played well into her career. She was also introduced to a new generation of admirers through a short monologue in Les Nubians song “Makeda” and had songs featured in films such as “Drugstore Cowboy.”

She also had small roles in later films, including Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues.”

According to the New York Times, she had no children, but is survived by two brothers and a sister.


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OBITUARY: Actress Vonetta McGee Passes Away at 65

The beautiful and talented actress Vonetta McGee passed away on July 9, 2010 in Berkeley, California, after being in a coma for two days due to a heart condition. Diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease while in her teens, the actress persevered and thrive in spite of the disease, which was not the cause of her death.

Despite her many appearances in film and television, she will probably be most remembered for her role as the eternal love interest of William Marshall’s “Blacula” character –a campy take on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”

Ms. McGee was a San Francisco-native and was known for her roles in local theater while attending City College of San Francisco and being a pre-law student at San Francisco State University. Her real name was Lawrence Vonetta McGee and was named after her father, Lawrence. She took her middle name for her stage name.

Ms. McGee starred in a number of films in Italy where she briefly relocated. She starred in “Faustina” and played the title role in “Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence).” Vonetta McGee was an integral part of the 1970’s blaxploitation cinema movement and was heavily involved with Max Julien, screenwriter (“Cleopatra Jones” and “Thomasine & Bushrod“) and star of the Oakland-based film “The Mack.”

Later in her career, she appeared in fewer, but more select films and television. She made an appearance in the cult punk movie “Repo Man” alongside Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton.

In 1986 she married fellow actor Carl Lumbly, who is more recently known for his television roles on “Alias,” “Chuck,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and voice overs on a number of animated superhero series.

According to the New York Times, “Ms. McGee is survived by their son, Brandon Lumbly; her mother, Alma McGee; three brothers, Donald, Richard and Ronald; and a sister, also named Alma McGee.”

FLASHBACK: NPR Interview’s Gail Lumet Buckley About Her Mother Lena Horne

Originally airing in 1986, NPR’s Terry Gross interviews Gail Lumet Buckley, Lena Horne’s daughter. The interview gives more insight into Lena Horne’s family history. According to the late-Lena Horne’s daughter (listen to the NPR podcast below –you may have to wait for it to load):

“She was Walter White and Paul Robeson‘s test case,” explained Buckley. “She was a test case for the NAACP which had decided that they were going to change the image of Hollywood. … That made her the enemy of a lot of black actors in Hollywood, who were very upset. They said, ‘You’re trying to take work away from us. There will be no more jungle movies. There will be no more old plantation movies. What are you trying to do?’ And Paul Robeson said to her, ‘These people aren’t important. The people who matter are out there — the Pullman porters, those people. And they want to see a new image. And you have to do it.’ “

Lena Horne Passes Away at 92

Screen legend, activist and entertainer Lena Horne passed away on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010, in Manhattan, at the age of 92.

Ms. Horne was a force of nature who blazed trails for Black women in film and entertainment. Better known for her early films like “Stormy Weather,” Vincent Minelli’s “Cabin in the Sky,” “The Duke is Tops,” and, she was continually an active fixture in film, television and stage later in her career in “The Wiz” (as Glenda the Good Witch), and her one-woman Broadway show, “Lena: A Lady and Her Music,” which won her a Tony and two Grammy Awards.

Ms. Horne was born into a Black –some say elite– upper-middle class family, on June 30, 1917 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, making her a fourth-generation Brooklyner. She was from a family of accomplished and educated members of society, including, publishers, educators, performers, and charitable/civic leaders.

She started her early career as one of the Cotton Club dancers, an intentionally selected group of women who were selected primarily for their lighter skin tones, who the owners (who were connected to mob boss Dutch Schultz Schultz and frequented by mobsters) felt would be more acceptable and attractive to the patrons. Ms. Horne was not unfamiliar with the stage, as her mother, Edna Scottron, was also a stage actress and performer, though she found less success than her daughter.

Miss Lena’s big break came from her appearances in Popkin Brothers’ “The Duke is Tops” and “Bronze Venus,” two films which was geared toward African American audiences, but which gave her exposure to the film industry and the MGM Studio.

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At MGM Studios, Lena’s roles were often relegated to songs that could be easily cut from a film when the studio wanted to appeal to white audiences in the South. However, the biggest slap is when her bestfriend Ava Gardner was picked over Lena for the role of Julie in “Showboat.” Makeup was even specially made for Ava Gardner to make her “darker” and more believable as a mulatto. While at MGM Studios, she found larger success as a sex symbol in movies geared toward Black audiences called “Race Movies.” She exploded onto the screen in films like “Stormy Weather” and “Cabin in the Sky.” When she left MGM, she returned to the stage for grander more elaborate cabaret performances, and even starred at the exclusive Waldorf-Astoria in 1957, which produced one of her most popular albums.

Ms. Horne also became an outspoken advocate for the Civil Rights movement, though many in the Black community questioned her commitment because they remembered her as the “Bronze beauty” who vehemently proclaimed herself as “Native American” or anything but “Black,” which was term that was considered as an insult up until the late-20th century. However, her steadfast support for the movement, her work in her sorority (Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.) and her civic involvement, elevated her to one of the most prolific Civil Rights activists in the entertainment industry. In her eighties, she found herself secure in her accomplishments, and, according to the New York Times:

“My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

Ms. Horne’s second husband, Lennie Hayton, and son, Edwin Jones (by her first marriage to Louis Jones), preceded her in death in 11970. She is survived by her daughter, actress and writer, Gail Lumet Buckley (who wrote a biography of her family and her mother in 1986 called, “The Hornes: An American Family”), and her grandchildren, one of whom is director and filmmaker, Jenny Lumet (“Rachel Getting Married”), and great-grandchildren.

She will be sorely missed, but her talent and legend will live on in film and recordings.

Read more:

OBITUARY: Celebrity Make-up Artist & Former Actress Roxanne Floyd Dies

Celebrity make-up artist Roxanne Floyd

Amber Magazine reported that make-up artist to the stars, Roxanne Floyd, passed away from unknown causes on January 28, 2010.

Ms. Floyd was well known for her amazing make-up work on African American actresses, singers and models, and helped to usher in the eyebrow-trend, especially among women-of-color.

Unlike most make-up artists, Ms. Floyd did not find (and mix) colors to create complimentary shades for the complex hues and shades of Black women. Hollywood often had only one color for Black women, and that was Max Factor’s “Light Egyptian,” which was actually created to “darken” white actors. (Lena Horne took a screen test for the 1951 film “Showboat,” but was overlooked for her then-friend Ava Gardner, who the studio’s “blackened up” with the Max Factor color.) The cosmetics industry didn’t truly change until the 1970’s when quality cosmetics for women-of-color were created by the late-Naomi Sims.

Ms. Floyd is probably best known for the lush-hued pout and striking eyes that singer Lauryn Hill sported for her multiple Grammy Award-winning album, The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill.

Roxanne Floyd also created the signature look for Essence magazine covers and layouts including ones featuring Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Angela Bassett and others.

The cause of Ms. Floyd’s death is unknown. Ms. Floyd is survived by her husband Rick Ramos, and her mother Alberta “Bertha” Floyd.

Read more at Amber Magazine

Actress Alaina Reed Hall Dies of Breast Cancer

Over the weekend, TV actress Samaria Graham delivered some sad news that actress Alaina Reed Hall passed away. Mrs. Hall played Ms. Graham’s TV mother on the hit television series “Blossom.”

Mrs. Reed –a stage, film and television actress– was well known for her roles on “Sesame Street” (as Gordon’s little sister, the photographer), and her recurring roles on “227” and “Cleghorne.” Mrs. Hall was 66 years old. She will be sorely missed.

(Re-post from AOL Black Voices – http://www.bvnewswire.com/2009/12/22/alaina-reed-hall-actress-dies-breast-cancer/)

Alaina Reed Hall, the beloved actress who starred on ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘227’ after appearing on Broadway, lost her battle to breast cancer on Dec. 17 at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 66.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Reed Hall was diagnosed with a terminal form of the disease in 2007.

Following her humble beginnings in the 1974 off-Broadway production ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road,’ the Springfield, Ohio, native joined ‘Sesame Street’ in 1976, where she played a professional photographer named Olivia.

In a 2004 interview, Reed Hall described the pivotal role as “the best job I ever had.”

Ave Montague (1945 – 2009)

For Immediate Release: February 11, 2009
CONTACT: avemontaguelegacy@ gmail.com

Memorial Service to Honor the Life of
AVE MONTAGUE

Saturday, February 21, 2009 | 12:00 noon
West Bay Conference Center
1290 Fillmore Street , San Francisco , CA
San Francisco arts publicist and presenter Ave Montague, founder of
The San Francisco Black Film Festival and Ave Montague and Associates
Died of natural causes January 24, 2009. She was 64.

SAN FRANCISCO – Film stars and jazz musicians, restaurant owners and community activists, artists and authors are all mourning the passing of well-known public relations specialist and event planner, Ave Montague. For more than 30 years, Ms. Montague was an integral part of the San Francisco Bay Area community, especially San Francisco ‘s Fillmore District. Some considered her the unofficial mayor of the Fillmore because of all the time and work she devoted to its renovation and the preservation of its cultural traditions. Ms. Montague died on Friday, January 23, 2009 of natural causes. She was 64 years old.

Never content with the status quo, Montague was always a mover and shaker in social, artistic and nonprofit realms. Just days before her death, she saw one of her greatest visions realized with the successful execution of Inauguration West, a west coast celebration of the historic Inauguration of President Barack Obama. True to her passionate concern for charitable organi-
zations, a portion of the proceeds from Inauguration West were dedicated to several non-profit groups including Urban Kidz Films, a subsidiary of the San Francisco Black Film Festival.

A native of East Orange , New Jersey , Montague attended East Orange High School before graduating with a degree in marketing from New York ‘s prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York . She joined the Executive Training Program at Macy’s and became one of the first African American senior executives in the corporation’ s history. In 1988, she launched Ave Montague and Associates, the independent events and public relations business that expanded over the years to include a wide range of artistic, social and cultural enterprises. Montague represented a broad spectrum of artists, filmmakers and authors as well as rising small business professionals and progressive corporate clients.

In 1998, Montague was asked to present a film series as part of the Fillmore district’s Juneteenth Festival. The exhilaration of this experience, coupled with the decline of Oakland ‘s Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, fueled her desire to develop a San Francisco Bay Area film festival dedicated to positive images of African Americans. That same year, Montague founded the San Francisco Black Film Festival (SFBFF) and became its Executive Director. Operating with only a small budget and a passion for film, she grew the festival from a one-day event attended by 300 people in 1998 to an eight-day mega-film-festival with many thousands attending a diverse program, offering films from throughout the African Diaspora.

Montague curated and/or presented many other film festivals including Knoxville , Tennessee ‘s first Black Film Festival, The 2007 Stanford Reel Black Film Festival and the San Francisco International Arts Festival Film Series. Her increasing regard for the cultural importance of documenting, preserving and interpreting the creative contributions of Black filmmakers led her to amass a significant archive of Black films that she made available to private collectors, educators and schools. She dubbed the enterprise “amvideos.com.” Montague’s desire to provide positive role models for the African-American community and her commitment to education prompted her to found the African American Speakers’ Bureau (aasb.net) and to serve on the advisory board of WritersCorp, a program for young writers sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission. She was also a founding board member of “Friends of Faith”, an organization dedicated to educating women of color about the importance of early detection and treatment of breast cancer. She was a former Co-chair of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association (BABJA) and served as vice president of the board of directors for the San Francisco , San Mateo and Marin C ounty YWCA . She also served on the Community Benefits District Board (CBD) for the Fillmore Jazz Preservation district.

Montague’s determination and innovative promotional campaigns garnered celebrity patronage, corporate support and record-breaking attendance at countless cultural events for the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Dimensions Dance Theater, the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, Fillmore Jazz District Promotions, the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, the Black Coalition on AIDS, TV One, the Omega Boys Club, Starbucks Urban Coffee Opportunities, Museum of the African Diaspora, Yoshi’s San Francisco, Restaurant 1300 on Fillmore, Urban Solutions, UCSF Medical Center and many others.

In 2007, Montague received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women–Oakland Bay Area chapter. In February, 2008, she was honored with the Kuumba Award for Excellence in the Arts and received the “Business Woman of the Year” Award from the San Francisco Business and Professional Women’s Club in 1994. In 2000, the National African American Youth Summit honored Montague for her outstanding work with young people.

She is survived by one son, Kali Ray, a grandson, Kali Ray Jr., both of Atlanta , GA , and a granddaughter, Cree Ray of Tracy, CA. Montague leaves to mourn her passing a whole community of friends who will always remember her dedication and devotion to the causes dear to her heart. Her memorial is set for Saturday, February 21, 2009 , noon , at the West Bay Conference Center , 1290 Fillmore Street , San Francisco , CA .
###

Obituary: Marpessa Dawn (1934 – 2008)

I don’t know how I missed this obituary, especially considering that BLACK ORPHEUS is one of my all time favorite films!

The beautiful, and exquisite Marpessa Dawn passed away of a heart attack last August (August 25, 2008) in her home, in Paris, France. A magnificent, multilingual actress, Ms. Dawn played the lead role of Eurydice in Marcel Camus’ film, BLACK ORPHEUS.

Unusual for its time because it featured African Brazilians in the most un-glamorous of locations –a favela– as the actors recreated the ancient Greek story of Orpheus’ and Eurydice’s undying love. Her co-star in the film, Breno Mello, was a gorgeous, African Brazilian man, who defiantly played the lead in an ageless love story, when few Black love stories were being presented on film. Sadly, Mr. Mello also passed away just 41 days before Ms. Dawn.

BLACK ORPHEUS was filmed in Brazil, and was sub-titled for international audiences because it was entirely in Portuguese. Ahead of its time, BLACK ORPHEUS spring boarded Marpessa Dawn into the movie spotlight. Many thought she was an “exotic” beauty from Brazil, but she was American born, specifically, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her original name was Gypsy Marpessa Dawn Meno.

Ms. Dawn was an amazingly “global” woman before the average American barely knew what was outside of their town’s borders. She was fluent in many languages, including, French and Portuguese. She raised eyebrows in the late-1950’s by marrying a white, European man, and lived as an expatriat in Paris, France.

Ms. Dawn will always be remembered in the hearts of movie lovers everywhere. She is survived by her daughter Dhyana Kluth.

More: NY Times

Eartha Mae Kitt: January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008

"Just because you are different does not mean that you have to be rejected." --Eartha Kitt

The incredible Eartha Kitt passed away due to colon cancer on December 25, 2008, in New York City.

Ms. Kitt was an “acquired taste” for many who couldn’t reconcile her personal roots with the persona she carefully developed. She feigned an indescribable accent that many in the United States thought pretentious and intentional. However, few knew much about her accomplishments in entertainment outside of her unique rendition of “Santa Baby,” and her appearances as Catwoman on the hokey “Batman” television series in the 1960’s.

Eartha Kitt rarely held back and was sometimes painfully truthful. Her straight talking offended some, but as a woman who was truly “self made,” she didn’t feel the need to censor her beliefs, her background or her feelings.

I can clearly remember an interview where she was asked why she didn’t date Black contemporaries of her time, i.e., Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, et al., where she looked the interviewer dead in their face and replied (straight-faced), “Well, all the white women had them.” Ka-zing! (For the record, she did date some of these actors, who eventually made their own choices, but never had the same question posed to them.)

This same quick response resulted in her being –in her own words– “blackballed” in the United States by the Johnson Administration. In 1968 when she responded to a question about the Vietnam War from first lady “Lady bird” Johnson, she responded, “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” According to the New York Times, the remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career. Ms. Kitt looked at it more philosophically, and was quoted as saying, “When the people who are responsible for our country ask you a direct question, I expect them to accept a direct answer, not to be blackballed because you are telling the truth.”

Ms. Kitt was “global” before it was considered en vogue, and was able to speak four languages, and sang in seven; she was most fluent in French. She was also one of the original dancers in renowned dancer and anthropologist Dr. Katherine Dunham’s dance company. It was while touring with Dr. Dunham’s company, that Ms. Kitt “jumped ship” in France, a decidedly smart move since her popularity as a cabaret performer flourished in Europe.

Newer generations remember Ms. Kitt in campier roles like Lady Eloise in Boomerang, starring alongside Eddy Murphy. Ms. Kitt is survived by her daughter with real-estate developer Bill McDonald, Kitt Shapiro, and two grand-daughters.

Her original spirit will be sorely missed…

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