Elisabeth Welch

Born - Feb 27, 1904 in New York, NY  |   Died - Jul 15, 2003 in Northolt, Middlesex, England  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Crime, Fantasy

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Elisabeth Welch was a black American actress/singer who followed in the footsteps of her contemporaries Adelaide Hall, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, and Buddy Bradley, making her way from the United States to a major career in England. Born and raised in New York City, she studied for the stage and made her debut in the theatrical revue Blackbirds of 1928. She later appeared on-stage in Paris and then returned to New York, in a show called The New Yorkers, her featured number the Cole Porter song "Love for Sale." Such was the demand for her services, that Welch was off to England in 1933 for her London debut in Dark Doings; she followed this up later that same year in the Cole Porter show Nymph Errant, in which she sung the song "Solomon." Welch was received so well in England that she made it her home permanently, and enjoyed the kind of multi-tiered career that would have been virtually impossible for a black woman in America. On radio, her soft, sweet voice made her a star in the series Soft Lights and Sweet Music in 1934, and she also moved from Nymph Errant into the musical Glamorous Night; the movies also welcomed her, beginning in 1934 in Death at Broadcasting House, but it was her next two films that solidified her screen legacy, as she played opposite Paul Robeson in two of his best vehicles, Song of Freedom (1936) and Big Fella (1937). At times, even in England, she was limited onscreen to portraying a cabaret singer, as in the 1938 drama Over the Moon and the 1943 thriller Alibi; but when Welch got a real acting role, she could cut a memorable figure onscreen, such as her portrayal of Beulah, the cabaret hostess in the 1945 chiller Dead of Night. Welch actually spent a good chunk of WWII performing with Sir John Gielgud's company entertaining troops on Gibraltar and in other combat areas, but she managed to work in stage performances in works such as Arc de Triomphe in 1943, and she headlined the 1945 London Palladium revue Happy and Glorious, which enjoyed an 18-month run that carried it almost a year past the end of the war. Welch was still working regularly as a singer and actress in the (and her) '70s, appearing in movies such as Revenge of the Pink Panther, Arabian Adventure, and Derek Jarman's The Tempest, in which she portrayed a Goddess and sang "Stormy Weather," which (with apologies to Lena Horne) was something of a signature tune for her in England.

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