The Story of Joyce Bryant

Joyce Bryant was considered “The Black Marilyn Monroe” and called “The Bronze Blond Bombshell.” She is singer and actress who achieved fame in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a theater and nightclub performer. She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world and regularly appeared in magazines like Jet. A Life magazine layout in 1953 depicted the sexy singer in provocative poses. (born Oct 14, 1928 – alive and well)

Joyce Byrant Jet Magazine

Joyce Byrant Jet Magazine

Her act was outrageously sexy; she wore provocative, tight, backless, cleavage-revealing mermaid dresses that left little to imagine and they were so tight, she had to be carried off-stage. Supposedly, Bryant twisted so much she lost four pounds a performance.

Joyce Bryant

Joyce Bryant

Bryant, was the oldest of eight children. She was a quiet child raised in a strict home and had ambitions of becoming a sociology teacher. Born in Oakland, California and raised in San Francisco to a mother who was a devout Seventh Day Adventist. She eloped at age 14 but the marriage ended that same evening.

In 1946, she left home to live with her cousins in Los Angeles, she agreed on a dare to participate in an impromptu singalong at a local club. Bryany said: “A few minutes later the club owner offered me $25 to go up on stage, and I took it because I [needed the money] to get home.” From there, she picked up other gigs and built a strong reputation.

Bryant’s hair was naturally black, but not wanting to be upstaged by Josephine Baker at a club, she doused it with silver radiator paint, slithered into a tight silver dress and voila: the Bronze Blond Bombshell and even Baker was impressed.

Her sexy act and Bryant’s elastic voice elevated the singer to heavyweight status; she earned as much as 3,500 dollars a gig and 150,000 dollars a year in the early ’50s.

Around 1952, she recorded a series of 78s for OKeh Records with the Joe Reisman Orchestra. Two of her most well-known standards, “Love for Sale” and “Drunk with Love”, were banned from radio play for their provocative lyrics.

Bryant, who often faced discrimination and was outspoken on issues of racial inequality, became in 1952 the first black entertainer to perform at a Miami Beach hotel, defying threats by the Ku Klux Klan who had burned her in effigy. She was critical of racial billing practices at night clubs and hotels and advocated for entertainers as a group to fight Jim Crow laws.

In 1954, she became one of the first black singers to perform at the Casino Royal in Washington, D.C., where she said that she had heard so much about the segregation practiced there that she was surprised to see so many African-Americans attend the downtown club. “It was a great thrill,” she said, “to see them enter and be treated so courteously by the management.”

As meteoric as her career took off, it landed even faster. The paint damaged her hair. She was raised to fear God and she started having second thoughts about her image. She disliked working on the Sabbath and hated the clubs and the men (often gangsters) who frequented them, lusting after her body. She was once beaten in her dressing room for refusing an admirer’s advances. Years later, she told Essence magazine that she never enjoyed her career. She found solace in pills: pills for sleeping and pills for energy.

Joyce Bryant

Joyce Bryant

She was once beaten in her dressing room after rejecting a man’s advances. Her disenchantment with the drug and gangster subcultures, combined with pressures from her management, led Bryant to quit the first phase of her career in 1955 when she denounced it for the church. She wanted to quit earlier, but couldn’t because of nefarious managers and prior commitments.

“Religion has always been a part of me,” she said. “and it was a very sinful thing I was doing–being very sexy, with tight, low cut gowns.” She also recalled: “I had a very bad throat and I was doing eight performances a day […] A doctor was brought in to help and he said, ‘I can spray your throat with cocaine and that will fix the problem, but you’ll become addicted.’ Then I overheard my manager say, ‘I don’t care what you do, just make her sing!

Devoting herself to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Bryant enrolled in Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. Ebony published a feature article in its May 1956 issue titled, “The New World of Joyce Bryant: Former Café Singer Gives Up $200,000-a-year Career to Learn to Serve God”.

Traveling for years through the South, Bryant grew angry when she experienced hospitals refuse care for those in critical need because they were black. As a result, she organized fundraisers for blacks to buy food, clothing, and medicine, and she continued to put on concerts–wearing her natural black hair and no makeup–to raise money for her church.

She met frequently with Martin Luther King, Jr.–a fan of her singing–to support his efforts to bring basic material comforts to blacks. Bryant believed the struggle for civil rights to be the struggle for all people who believed in God, but when she confronted her church, asking it to take a stand against discrimination, the church refused with the reasoning, “But these are of earthly matters and thus of no spiritual importance.”

Joyce Bryant Bloom and Glamour

Joyce Bryant Bloom and Glamour

Disappointed, she recanted from the Seventh-day Adventist. Disillusioned, and after many false accusations she returned to entertaining in the ’60s. She worked with touring foreign opera companies, returned to the rocky club scene and sang on cruise ships; this time without the theatrics, blond hair, and tight dresses.

She trained with vocal teacher and that led to her winning a contract with the New York City Opera. She also toured internationally with the Italian, French, and Vienna Opera companies. She returned to performing jazz in the 1980s and began a career as a vocal instructor, with such clients as Jennifer Holliday, Phyllis Hyman, and Raquel Welch.

Today Joyce Bryant is alive and well. A documentary, titled Joyce Bryant: The Lost Diva, is in the works.

The Legendary Joyce Bryant

The Legendary Joyce Bryant


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