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News Archive 1

Three new pages

Three pages have been added under the titles: "News" (this page), "Music" and "Flo-Bert Awards". For those not aware, the 'Flo-Bert's are the annual awards named after Florence Mills and Bert Williams and made for outstanding achievements in the field of tap dance. They will be presented at the 2001 Tap Extravaganza. The Music page provides extracts from, or links to, music associated with Florence.

 

Vaudeville Times: Magazine article & web page

In the last version I provided a link to the web site for the American Vaudeville Museum with the comment: "Doesn't include Florence. H'mm, we'll have to see what we can do about that!" Well, that's all been fixed now.  They explained that content on the site follows publication in their magazine Vaudeville Times and so an article by me, with some helpful collaboration from their resident contributor Frank Cullen, was published in the January 2001 edition.  To get a copy of the issue with the article on Florence, and other fascinating stuff, send US$6 (US$7 if outside USA) to: AVM, 33 Vista Sierra, Edgewood, NM 87015-6702, USA, asking for Vol. III, Issue 4 (Florence Mills) 

 

Adelaide Hall Biographies

Recent reports suggest that there may soon be two biographies of Adelaide Hall's life published.  Earl Okin, a friend of Adelaide's, recently advised the Duke Ellington Internet mailing list: "A friend of mine in London is finishing up what will prove to be a fascinating biographical book about our old friend Adelaide Hall, only going up to her arrival in the UK in the late 30s where she stayed until her death in 1993."
  I am also able to advise of another planned biography which will cover the whole of Adelaide's life:
"Sophisticated Lady - A Celebration of Adelaide Hall by Stephen Bourne will be published in October 2001 by the London-based publisher ECOHP (Hammersmith and Fulham Ethnic Communities Oral History Project) to commemorate her centenary. To coincide with the publication of the book, Bourne will also provide the sleeve notes to a new double CD compilation covering the years 1927-50 with some rare, unreleased recordings. This will be compiled by Hugh Palmer from his unique 78" record collection."
 

Johnny Nit scrapbooks

Johnny Nit was one of the most admired dancers of the Twenties. Critic Alexander Woolcott enthused over him in "Dixie to Broadway": "the dark Mr. Nit with the toothful smile slides quietly into the rhythm and gives himself over to an artful, beautifully competent soft-shoe dance that is the high point of the evening. The lisp of his feet on the floor is rhythm’s self."  He went to England with Florence in "Blackbirds of 1926" and "1927" and then stayed on to be highly successful in Europe and England for many years.  He died in 1951 having been nursed lovingly through his final illness by his devoted Irish partner. On her recent death his scrapbooks came to light containing a treasure trove of memorabilia which is mostly being donated to an English theatre museum.

 

Burns Jazz: Duke's "Black Beauty"

Anyone living in America recently would have been hard put to avoid knowing that Ken Burn's nine part documentary on Jazz was running on TV.  Duke Ellington was one of the major figures featured in it, and a 1928 solo piano version of "Black Beauty", a.k.a. his "Portrait of Florence Mills" is on Disc One of  the  5 CD box "Ken Burns Jazz Collection"
 

New book : The Power of Pride

There is a very nice chapter on Florence, with excellent pictures, in the recently published The Power of Pride: Stylemakers and Rulebreakers of the Harlem Renaissance by Carole Marks and Diana Edkins.  The rest of the book is also excellent with coverage of figures like Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters and many, many more. 

Obituaries

The few people left from Florence's era are, by the nature of things, very old and inevitably we are gradually losing them. This was one of the most outstanding of them:

Maude Russell (The Slim Princess)

Maude Russell died recently at the magnificent age of 104.  As late as last year her good friend Leonard Reed advised me her mind was still as sharp as ever.  I had the pleasure of meeting her at 101 and was astounded at her vitality and vivid memory.  A survivor of 5 marriages and a very tough lady, she  said to me "Listen, you know, about Florence, Florence was such an angelic person, there’s very little to write about her. There was never any scandal attached to her

Here is the full text of her obituary article in the New York Times, 29. March 2001:

Maude Rutherford, High-Kicking Songster of 20's, Dies at 104: By JOYCE WADLER

Maude Russell Rutherford, a singer and dancer in the glory days of black theater in the 1920's who always said she was the one who really introduced the Charleston on Broadway, died on March 8 at her home in Atlantic City. She is believed to have been 104. Strikingly pretty, she was billed as the Slim Princess when she worked with Josephine Baker, Fats Waller and Pearl Bailey. Never a star, Ms. Rutherford was usually the soubrette or a featured performer and a great favorite at Harlem's Cotton Club.
She wrote her particular footnote to history in 1922 in the Broadway show "Liza, " an all-black revue with lyrics and music by Maceo Pinkard. While many dance histories credit the 1923 show "Runnin' Wild" with bringing the Charleston to Broadway, Ms. Rutherford led the "Liza" chorus girls in the dance a year earlier.

She remained proud of her dance abilities to the end of her life. "I used to kick 32 times across the stage, and my legs would hit my nose," Ms. Rutherford told Jean- Claude Baker, who was reared by Josephine Baker and who is a student of black entertainment. "I was a dancing fool." Ms. Rutherford was born in Texas to a black mother, Margaret Lee, and a white father, William McCann. With interracial unions prohibited, her parents never lived together.

As a teenager working as a ticket taker, Ms. Rutherford met Sam Russell, a star of the black theater with the comedy team Bilo and Ashes. He asked her to go on the road with him. She demanded marriage first. The marriage was violent and short. Ms. Rutherford, weary of being beaten, surreptitiously relieved her husband of $100, then struck out on her own.

Tall, with a sweet voice, she would play the bouncy, good-time girl, perhaps the comic relief. "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" was a youthful audition choice. Early in her career a producer tried to mold her as a blues singer, but, as Ms. Rutherford told Mr. Baker in a taped interview, it did not fit. The producer said, "Honey, you stick to bubbles."

Her style offstage was down to earth and no-nonsense, and she used language too vivid to be called plain- spoken; she described one colleague as "so ugly she could take a stick and break day." Ms. Rutherford's theater credits included "Dixie to Broadway" (1924), "Chocolate Scandals" (1927) and "Keep Shufflin' " (1928). She left show business in the 1950's and in 1953 married her fifth husband, Septimus Rutherford, chief steward for the Moore- McCormack Lines. She worked as a switchboard operator in an Atlantic City hotel. But she never lost her show-biz flair.

When her husband died in 1980, Ms. Rutherford had her name carved into the headstone she and her husband would share, as well as a birth date, Mr. Baker said. But instead of 1897, which she had told friends was the year of her birth, the carved date was 1902. "She said, `By the time I die, nobody will be here to remember, so I will go forever in eternity five years younger,' " Mr. Baker said.

Mark Tucker

A noted Ellington and black music scholar and musician, soon to publish a book on Thelonious Monk, Mark Tucker died at a tragically early age recently. He was a humane , generous man whose scholarship was at the service of all, as evidenced by his assistance to me documented in my TDES newsletter article on Duke, Black Beauty, Florence and me.  For more information see: Mark Tucker Memorial 

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