Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

February 25, 1939

On February 25, 1939, the Norfolk Journal and Guide featured a picture of dancer Blanche Thompson being toasted by members of her stage revue, “Hot From Harlem.” The caption describes Thompson as the “original Brown Skin Model” and who was “often referred to as the bronze Venus of the show world.” Irvin C. Miller, a Fisk University graduate, actor, and vaudeville producer, founded the “Brown Skin Models” in the 1920s as a music and dance revue styled like the Ziegfeld Follies. Thompson was one of the first stars of the groups, and she later married Miller and managed the “Brown Skin Models.”

One of the “Hot From Harlem” performers was Kahloah, who the Journal and Guide praised: “Kahloah, who is described as an ‘import,’ did a short but very artistic dancing routine. Possessing nimble footwork and an uncanny sense of gyrations, she is an attraction that could fit in any smart spot. Her fast number is a mixture between a contortionist and a rhumba dancer well designed and presented for mass appeal.” A few paragraphs later, the article turned to the off-stage life of this “exotic dancer”: “‘Kaholah,’ who captivated Norfolk and the Peninsula with her exotic dancing, was born Elizabeth Kelly, and is a native of Chicago. In private life she is Mrs. Benn Polk, and has one daughter, Dolores, who is eight years of age.She has been doing her specialty for six and one-half years. Started at the Grand Terrace in Chicago with Earl Hines. Lew Leslie gave her her first big break, also was the first to bill her as ‘Kahloah’ when he starred her in the touring ‘Blackbirds of 1935’” (click to view PDF).  I find it interesting how the article initially played up Kaholah’s “exoticness,” before offering a pretty detailed account of how this stage persona developed.

Blanche Thompson, Irvin C. Miller, and the “Brown Skin Models” were discussed regularly in the black press. Here are some examples:


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