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.”

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.”

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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