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Florence Mills

(1895-1927), Actress and singer

Sitter in 5 portraits
First female African-American performer to reach international superstardom. Born into poverty in Washington DC., Mills began performing at the age of five. She found some fame on the vaudeville and burlesque circuits before winning her first major role as the lead in the 1921 hit musical Shuffle Away. In 1922 she appeared in Plantation Revue on Broadway, the following year travelling to London to perform in From Dover to Dixie at the London Pavilion. From 1926 she appeared in Blackbirds (performing over 300 shows), 'I'm a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird' became her signature song, earning her the title 'The little blackbird'. Although no recordings survive she is considered to be one of the heroes of the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age in the 1920s. Her impact was evident when she died of tuberculosis, 150,000 mourners attended her funeral, the largest Harlem had ever seen.

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Florence Mills in 'Dover Street to Dixie' at the London Pavilion, by Bassano Ltd - NPG x85305

Florence Mills in 'Dover Street to Dixie' at the London Pavilion

by Bassano Ltd
bromide print, 1 August 1923
On display in Room 25 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG x85305

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