In celebration of the art of song and dance, today we feature Florence Mills during National Women’s History Month.
Florence Mills (January 25, 1896 – November 1, 1927), born Florence Winfrey was an African-American cabaret singer, dancer, and comedian known for her effervescent stage presence and delicate voice. She was a daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Nellie (Simon) and John Winfrey in Washington, D.C.
She became an entertainer as a young child, and was billed as “Baby Florence.” She worked in vaudeville and joined a touring company at eight years old before authorities found out she was underage. In 1910 Mills would form another vaudeville act—the Mills Sisters—with her siblings Olivia and Maude. Her major breakthrough happened in 1921 when she appeared in the Off-Broadway musical Shuffle Along. The following year, she appeared on Broadway in Plantation Revue, and later the song “I’m a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird” from Blackbirds became her trademark.
Mills later met and wed Ulysses S. Thompson, from the troupe the Tennessee Ten, in 1923. She earned a reputation for her wondrous high-pitched voice, unique dance movements, and comedic timing. This allowed her to become an unparalleled force during the Harlem Renaissance. She died in New York City on November 1, 1927 from appendicitis.
We recognize and salute Florence Mills and her amazing, although short-lived vaudeville career, during #NationalWomensHistoryMonth.