Britain`s first ` Black Star `, Elisabeth Margaret Welch ` has been honoured with a Blue plaque. Only one other black lady has been recognised in this way, namely, Mary Seacole, who performed courageous feats in the Crimean war.
The Plaque was unveiled in February this year, at Ovington Court, Kensington, London, by Bonnie Greer, playwright and critic.
Elisabeth was born into Baptist family in Englewood, New Jersey. Her father was of American and African descent, her mother of Scottish and Irish ancestry. Elisabeth developed a deep love of song in the Church choir. She decided to abandon any other ideas and pursue a career in singing.
Her early appearances in America were in ` Liza ` in 1922 and ` Runnin` Wild` in 1923. While working in New york she had the chance to stand in for the singer who was performing a much discussed song of Cole Porter written from a prostitute`s point of view in the Broadway Musical ` New Yorkers `.She was a sensation. This was followed by ` Nymph Errant ` in 1935 in London. Elisabeth was, well, stunning. Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler then wrote ` Stormy Weather ` which became Elisabeth`s signature tune. Ivor Novello cast her in ` Glamorous Night `, and he wrote for her ` Far Away in Shanty town ` her rendering of this Blues Song was out of this world.
Elisabeth`s career moved on to include TV., films and radio plays. She was one of the first artists to perform on the new TV service relayed from Alexandra Palace. In films she was usually a singer, and performed twice with Paul Robeson.
The Royal Variety Performance had her presence in 1979 and 1986. in 1979 her recording of ` Stormy Weather ` Derek Jarman in his film version of 'The Tempest `.
Elisabeth made a return to New York, after an interval of fifty years, and appeared in ` Black Broadway `, and in 1986 her one woman show gained her an Obie Award. She was nominated aTony Award for` Jerome Kern goes to Hollywood `.
Elisabeth Margaret Welch was married to Luke Smith, a musician, until he died in 1936. There were no children.
In 1996 she sang ` Stormy weather ` for a TV Documentary at the age of ninety three.
Although, American born, Elisabeth liked London enough to make it her permanent home, she never left, and died there aged ninety nine years. She was a Star.
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