Sponsored by Actors' Equity's Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, the concert 7 PM March 17 at the Lamb's Theatre is subtitled Celebrating 100 Years of African-American Women on Broadway. Stars who are part of that history include Debbie Allen, Trazana Beverley, Vinie Burrows, B.J. Crosby, Ruby Dee, Queen Esther, Micki Grant, Heather Headley, Gertrude Jeannette, Barbara Montgomery, Novella Nelson, Stephanie Pope, Vivian Reed, Clarise Taylor, Barbara Ann Teer and Lillias White.
The event is directed and produced by Woodie King, Jr., and written by Shauneille Perry.
Tickets are $55 (orchestra) and $35 (mezzanine). For reservations, call (212) 840-0770. The Lamb's is at 130 W. 44th Street.
"With song and spoken word, Black Beauties will celebrate the lives and artistry of Broadway's biggest black female stars, each of whom made a unique contribution to the cultural landscape of 20th century American theatre," according to the announcement.
According to the producers, the ladies celebrated include:
Ethel Waters, who was at one time the highest paid female actor working on Broadway, appeared in such hits as As Thousands Cheer, Blackbirds of 1930, At Home Abroad and The Member of the Wedding. She received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the film, "Pinky," making her one of a very select group of African American actors to receive the honor. She was also an accomplished blues singer whose unique style allowed her career to span five decades.
Florence Mills was a star of the Harlem Renaissance for whom Duke Ellington's song "Black Beauty" was written. She became famous for breaking down color barriers by appearing on Broadway in a Lew Leslie revue, going on to star in From Dixie to Broadway, a success in New York and London. She became an icon after her untimely death at age 32 and her house at 220 W. 135th Street is today a National Historic Landmark.
Sissieretta Jones, whose remarkable soprano and commanding stage presence won her critical and personal acclaim, was known for combining operatic arias and popular repertoire. She rose to stardom after performing at the Grand Negro Jubilee at Madison Square Garden to a capacity crowd of over 75,000 in 1892. Despite being barred from performing in operas due to prevailing racism, she did perform concerts on opera and vaudeville stages and her success there helped black performers gain acceptance as serious artists.
Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun made her the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. She was both the youngest and first African-American person to win the Drama Desk Award. The play was responsible for opening doors for black playwrights and catapulted both she and her cast, with names like Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, to the forefront of theatrical fame. A Raisin in the Sun was chosen as one of the 100 most significant works of the 20th century in a national poll of playwrights, actors, journalists and other theatre professionals.
Rose McClendon starred in 11 plays on Broadway, including Porgy, Never No More, In Abraham Bosom, The House of Connelly and Langston Hughes' Mulatto. After studying at AADA in New York, she helped organize the Negro People's Theatre to develop black talent. In her heyday, McClendon was compared to the renowned actress Eleanora Duse, and was often called the "Sepia Barrymore."
Vinette Carroll became the first African-American woman to direct a play on Broadway, when Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope opened on Broadway in 1973. Her success was repeated in 1976, with collaborator Micki Grant and Alex Bradford, with Your Arms Too Short Short to Box With God, which garnered three Tony nominations. Carroll remains the only African American woman to receive a Tony nomination for Direction. In 1967, Carroll founded the Urban Arts Corps, which trained minority performers in all theatrical disciplines and specialized in works by African-American writers and composers. Carroll died last year.
Ntozake Shange was only the third African-American woman to have a play appear on Broadway when her critical smash for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf opened in 1976. It was an overnight success and Shange went on to champion the collaboration of poets, playwrights, dancers and musicians to create works that advocate social change such as Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon and her adaptation of Brecht's Mother Courage. Her poetry is famous for examining the joy and pain of being an African-American female.
Rosetta LeNoire had a varied and celebrated theatrical and television career that spanned several decades. After witnessing a lynching as a child, she was a champion of equal rights and used theatre to promote social change. She appeared in hits like A Streetcar Named Desire, Destry Rides Again and The Sunshine. Her legacy is best seen in the theatre company she founded in 1968, Amas Musical Theatre Company whose mission is to showcase the arts as a place where an individual's skill and artistry takes precedence over his or her race, color, creed or national origin.
Juanita Hall won a Tony Award for her dazzling portrayal of Bloody Mary in South Pacific, which still stands as the definitive performance of the role. She was part of the original cast of Flower Drum Song. She appeared in several other Broadway musicals and recreated her South Pacific role for the filmed television version in 1958.
Diana Sands made her theatrical debut in 1954 in the High School for Performing Arts production of Major Barbara and continued to defy typecasting by playing such classic roles as Medea, Antigone and Portia. Her varied career encompassed dramas, comedies, Shakespeare and Shaw including Black Monday, Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, The Living Premise and The Owl and the Pussycat. Perhaps her biggest stage success, though was as Beneatha Younger in the legendary Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun for which she earned an Outer Circle Critics Award. She recreated the role on film with the original cast that included other African-American legends like Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee.
Gertrude Jeannette performed in the original Broadway production of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. This landmark production brought together black artists like Jeanette with Beah Richards, Isabel Sanford, Juanita Moore and Frank Silvera, who also directed. Silvera broke barriers backstage as well as onstage, using black designers, technicians and other persons of color in a Broadway house. For her work, Jeannette is the 2001 recipient of Equity's Paul Robeson Award.