Starlets, Unsung: 7 Stories Of Lesser Known Black Women

October 2, 2012  |  

We all know of talented women who have graced the stage and the studio and became great legends in the process. Women such as Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Etta James and Lena Horne have all been indexed in our minds and talented, untouchable women who made their mark because of their talent, beauty and charisma. And for each of those women, we know that there is a great number of women who found their home in  entertainment, but didn’t emerge as a household name. It’s about time that we pay tribute to some of these women.

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Syreeta Wright

The Grammy-nominated songstress, Syreeta was discovered by Brian Holland, and did a great deal of collaborations with dozens of famous artists and producers, including her title producer and ex-husband, Stevie Wonder. She also sang background for the Supremes, Diana Ross, Deniece Williams and Minnie Riperton. Always having an active hand in the success of others’ songs and albums, the artist never acquired the following that some of her colleagues did. During the summer of 2004, following a two year struggle with congestive heart failure, she died from complications related to cancer.

 

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Darine Stern

Oct. 1971, Playboy Magazine published its first magazine with an African American woman featured on the cover. That black woman was Chicago-native Darine Stern, born November 1947. She was featured in the nude, sitting in a chair which presented the Playboy logo. The iconic photo was shot by photographer Richard Fegley, and directed by Playboy’s art designer Len Willis.

While some may argue that  there is no particular honor in being photographed nude, there is honor in being a pioneer…and show casing black beauty as being equivalent in every way to white beauty.  Stern went on to become an esteemed model, and was represented by Ford Models, L.A. Models and Models of Chicago. The model and playmate, unfortunately, lost her battle against breast cancer in 1994 at the age of 46.

 

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Paris Dupree

Paris Dupree, a legend in the Harlem ballroom industry, helped launch a subculture of fervently creative Latino, African American, gay and transgender individuals who performed at an annual drag show competitions.  The ballroom scene consisted of five founding house mothers, Dupree founding and mothering the House of Dupree in mid-1970’s. Dupree’s annual ball, entitled Paris is Burning inspired the title of the 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary based on the New York drag ball scene. Dupree recently passed away in August of this year.

 

 

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Erica Kennedy

Once named one of 100 most influential African-Americans by Ebony Magazine, Erica Kennedy was an author, blogger, singer, fashion journalist and news correspondent –contributing to half dozen publications. Her biggest claim to fame was her novel Bling, which became a New York Times bestseller. She was also the best friend of model Kimora Lee Simmons. Kennedy’s second novel Feminista was published, with less success, by St. Martin Press in 2009. Earlier this summer, unfortunately, Kennedy was found dead in her home –and the cause of her death is currently unknown.

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Madge Sinclair

Kingston, Jamaica-born actress, Madge Sinclair pursued acting in New York after role as a teacher in her homeland. Years after being in the states, she appeared on the acclaimed miniseries Roots which earned her an Emmy nomination. She also appeared in Coming to America, The Lion King, Me and the Boys and Star Trek. On Star Trek, she appear as the first female starship captain to ever appear on the series.  In 1995, Madge died of leukemia and was buried in Jamaica.  

 

 

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Nina Mae McKinney

The Vintage Vixen Nina Mae McKinney, known as the “The Black Garbo,” debuted on Broadway, dancing in a chorus line for the musical Blackbirds of 1928. It was there that she was discovered by MGM film director King Vidor. Smitten with McKinney, he cast her as one of the lead in his 1929 film, Hallelujah, making her the first African American woman to attain a main role in a mainstream movie. The fame that she achieved with Halleljah helped her to secure a five-year contract with MGM studios, establishing her as the first African American, ever, to secure a contract with a major studio. After appearing in a number of Hollywood movies, including a few with all Black castings, she left for Europe because of racism. She performed in Paris and England, and later retired to Greece after the war. During the spring of 1967 McKinney suffered a fatal heart attack.

 

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Cree Summers

Still alive and well, (unlike everyone else on this list) Cree Summer makes her dent on the entertainment world with her voice. Best known as Freddie from the late 80’s sitcom A Different World, Cree has spent a number of years singing, and erecting dozens upon dozens of animated characters with her raspy yet lulling voice. She has done voice over work for over one-hundred animated movies, video games and television series, including: Animaniacs, Marvel Super Hero Squad, Final Fantasy X, Ben 10, Hellboy: Blood and Iron, Celebrity Death Match and Pinky and the Brain.

 

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  • Y’all need 2 gone with having Cree Summer on this list… She aint unknown like that! if anything she should be titled under ‘Where you been/ We been lookin for you’ although she is still working just low key.

  • Vic

    “there is honor in being a pioneer…and show casing black beauty as being equivalent in every way to white beauty.”

    Because there is NOTHING more important than being as attractive as a white woman…

  • Candacey Doris

    Thank you for including at least one live starlet! Thanks especially for including Madge Sinclair. Loved her in Coming to America.

  • NONEYA

    Why is Cree Summer on this list???

  • Ms. Bee

    I’ve always thought Madge Sinclair was absolutely gorgeous. Her high cheekbones were everything. Then she played Sarabi in Lion King! Come on, Jesus! I wanted to be Sarabi, Queen Aoleon, Captain Silva La Forge, Bell Reynolds, Leona Hamilton… every one of her characters lol. Anything for those cheekbones.

  • Echo

    Her name is Summer, not “Summers”, though. 🙂

  • cut the bullsh!t

    Nope, haven’t heard. I guess ya’ll are too busy posting on and idolizing Kum Kumtrashian.

  • Hello_Kitty81

    I loved that movie Hallelujah with Nina Mae, my mom and I watched it on TCM couple months ago, she was good in that movie.

  • Korey

    I had to google tab a few of these ladies to learn a little more. Love!

  • HONEY LOVE

    OMG i thought you were about to say Cree died. I was about to have a fit. I love this.

  • Yay!

    Well done MN! This was one of very few worthy click-throughs.

  • Earthspirit1

    Thank you MN for this article. This particular subject should be written weekly or at least monthly. We have so many starlets who were/are so underrated. This list should be way longer.

  • IllyPhilly

    I like this