Joyce Bryant in a gown made by the African-American fashion designer Zelda Wynn Valdes. Photographed by Philippe Halsman, in 1954.
This week, gal-dem are style-crushing on Joyce Bryant – the silver-haired sultry songstress from the 40s/50s who dressed like a real-life mermaid and is the embodiment of all the diva qualities we wish we possessed. For instance, when she was performing, Bryant reportedly wore dresses so tight that she had to be carried off stage by her crew. And, apparently, when she was scheduled to be performing with Josephine Baker one evening, Bryant wanted to make sure she stole the show, so she poured silver radiator paint on her head, sparking her iconic silver-locked look. That’s dedication!Joyce in another Zelda Wynn Valdes gown photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1953.
But we don’t just love her for her fashion-forwardness and star quality; Bryant was also a civil rights activist. She encouraged her fellow performers to fight against Jim Crow laws and, in 1952, the Ku Klux Klan burned an effigy of her to protest her performance at a Miami Beach Hotel, but she kept on singing.
Bryant is often dubbed the “black Marilyn Monroe” but I think you’ll agree she deserves a title of her own! Check out this video of her single, ‘Love For Sale‘, which was banned from the radio because the lyrics were deemed too provocative for American listeners in the 1950s.