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- 1 2017-06-29T14:20:04+00:00 Matthew F. Delmont 01529ec942d3dadc44eb5d89f6fd4cc939ac378a Arts & Culture Matthew F. Delmont 2 structured_gallery 2017-06-29T14:26:12+00:00 Matthew F. Delmont 01529ec942d3dadc44eb5d89f6fd4cc939ac378a
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February 25, 1939
On February 25, 1939, the Norfolk Journal and Guide featured a picture of dancer Blanche Thompson being toasted by members of her stage revue, "Hot From Harlem." The caption describes Thompson as the "original Brown Skin Model" and who was "often referred to as the bronze Venus of the show world." Irvin C. Miller, a Fisk University graduate, actor, and vaudeville producer, founded the "Brown Skin Models" in the 1920s as music and dance revue styled like the Ziegfeld Follies. Thompson was one of the first stars of the groups and she later married Miller and managed the "Brown Skin Models."
One of the "Hot From Harlem" performers was Kahloah, who the Journal and Guide praised: "Kahloah, who is described as an 'import,' did a short but very artistic dancing routine. Possessing nimble footwork and an uncanny sense of gyrations, she is an attraction that could fit in any smart spot. Her fast number is a mixture between a contortionist and a rhumba dancer well designed and presented for mass appeal." A few paragraphs later, the article turned to the off-stage life of this "exotic dancer": "'Kaholah,' who captivated Norfolk and the Peninsula with her exotic dancing, was born Elizabeth Kelly, and is a native of Chicago. In private life she is Mrs. Benn Polk, and has one daughter, Dolores, who is eight years of age. She has been doing her specialty for six and one-half years Started at the Grand Terrace in Chicago with Earl Hines. Lew Leslie have her her first big break, also was the first to bill her as 'Kahloah; when he starred her in the touring 'Blackbirds of 1935'" (click to view PDF). I find it interesting how the article initially played up Kaholah's "exoticness," before offering a pretty detailed account of how this stage persona developed.
Blanche Thompson, Irvin C. Miller, and the "Brown Skin Models" were discussed regularly in the black press. Here are some examples:
- "Irvin C. Miller, With His Brown Skin Models Proves Hit of Season in Chicago," Pittsburgh Courier, January 9, 1926 (click to view PDF)
- "Irvin C. Miller Writes on Problems of the Theater: Says Negro Public Claims it Wants Better Shows, But Isn't Ready to Pay for 'Em," Pittsburgh Courier, February 2, 1927 (PDF)
- "Irvin C. Miller Admits Paternity of Baby Born in 1928 to Showgirl," New York Amsterdam News, August 21, 1929 (PDF)
- "'Brown Skin Models' Coming to Attucks Next Week: Miller's Revue to Present 35 Sepia Stars," Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 9, 1933 (PDF)
- "Brown Skin Models" advertisement featured singer Hannah Sylvester (billed as "Harlem's Mae West"), Atlanta Daily World, April 14, 1934 (PDF)
- "Irvin C. Miller's Brown Skin Models Big Bit in Cleveland: Blanche Thompson Heads Huge Cast at Globe Theater," Chicago Defender, January 2, 1937 (PDF)
- "'Brownskin Models' Star Hurt: Blanche Thompson Receives Head, Leg Injuires," Chicago Defender, August 7, 1937 (PDF)
- "Exotic Queen of Dance (Kaholah)," Norfolk Journal and Guide, February 11, 1939 (PDF)
- "'Brownskin Models' is Back, Better Some Say," Chicago Defender, March 19, 1955 (PDF)