Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Joyce Byrant, 'The Black Marilyn Monroe,' Dies at 95

Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons

Joyce Bryant, the sultry singer whose signature silver hair and tight mermaid dresses earned her the nicknames the "Bronze Blond Bombshell" and "The Black Marilyn Monroe," is dead.

Her niece and caretaker, Robyn LaBeaud, broke the news that her aunt died at home on Nov. 20 in Los Angeles, following a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. She was 95.

"What a woman she was I will share our journey soon and please don't forget auntie she loves each and everyone of you," LaBeaud posted on Bryant's official Instagram.

Bryant was one of the most popular acts on the nightclub circuit during the 1950s, reportedly amassing $1 million in performance and recording contracts by the middle of the decade.

She was one of the country's first Black sex symbols, using radiator paint to dye her hair silver early in her career and wowing audiences with her four-octave vocal range and suggestive choreography.

At the height of her first brush with fame, the devout Seventh-day Adventist left the limelight. Feeling guilty about the sexual nature of her performances and scared of the drug dependency that had taken hold of many of her friends in entertainment, she enrolled at what is now Oakwood University, a historically Black Seventh-day Adventist institution in Huntsville, Ala.

Bryant worked as a missionary before retraining, under the direction of Washington vocal coach Frederick Wilkerson, as a classical singer and eventually starting a career in opera. She sang the role of the female lead for the Gershwin opera "Porgy and Bess" after winning a contract with the New York City Opera. Bryan also toured internationally with Italian, French, and Vienna opera companies.

Later the torch singer would return to her roots in the 1980s to much acclaim and she subsequently began a career as a vocal instructor, with a stable of famous clients such as Jennifer Holliday and Raquel Welch.

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