During Black History Month, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate some of the many incredible Black woman artists that we know and love. Our next artist is the fabulous Joyce Bryant!
Joyce Bryant was a singer, dancer and civil rights activist, who achieved fame through the nightclub scene of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Joyce was known for her signature silver hair, which was created using radiator paint, and matching silver mermaid dress. With her unique style, gorgeous looks, and a four-octave vocal range, Joyce was quickly adored when she burst onto the nightclub scene.
Joyce’s reputation grew throughout the late 40s and early 50s, from small gigs in New York City clubs to 118-show tours of the Catskills, until eventually she was seen alongside the revered French dancer, singer and actress, Josephine Baker. Soon, Joyce was a star, known as “The Voice You’ll Always Remember,” “The Belter,” and more.
Soon, Joyce began to release records; “A Shoulder to Weep On”, “After You’ve Gone”, and “Farewell to Love”, were quite popular, however, two of her other albums, “Love for Sale” and “Drunk With Love”, were banned from radio play because they were “too provocative” despite “Love For Sale” being her biggest hit.
Joyce was not just an entertainer but an activist, breaking bounds in the entertainment industry and speaking out against the Jim Crow laws of the time. She was the first Black entertainer to perform at Hotel Algiers in Miami, where she bravely graced the stage despite death threats from the KKK.
She was also the first Black singer to perform at the Casino Royale in Washington, DC, where she was pleasantly surprised to see a number of Black audience members despite hearing that it was heavily segregated. Joyce also spoke out against discrimination in nightclubs, and encouraged her fellow entertainers to fight these Jim Crow laws as a group.
By 1955, Joyce was disillusioned with the abusive men that she came across in the nightclub scene, physically tired from years of performing, and hoping to give back to the Seventh-Day Adventist church which had raised her. She left the entertainment industry to devote herself to the church, performing only to raise money for the church, and spending her time fundraising to bring food, clothing, and medicine to Black people in need. During this time, she met frequently with Martin Luther King Jr., who was a fan of hers and who supported her fundraising efforts.
However, despite Joyce’s calls for the Seventh-Day Adventist church to take a stand against discrimination, they refused. Disillusioned again, Joyce went back to entertaining, this time getting classically trained, performing with the New York City Opera, and touring with operas all over Europe. In the 1980’s, she went back to jazz singing, and became a vocal instructor.
In a tribute to Joyce Bryant, FF2 Contributor Stephanie Taylor says, “Joyce Bryant may not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or an award named after her, but she paved the way for many Black female performers and used her talent to help others. Her talent will forever live on.”
This is exactly right. With her silver hair and dress, her powerful voice, and a fire within her to fight for civil rights, Joyce was a shining light in the world. Though she is no longer with us, her light continues to shine.
© Julia Lasker (FF2 Media 2/14/2023)
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Featured Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231] Photoshopping for FF2 by Jan Lisa Huttner.