Florence Mills made her professional debut at the age of 7 in the show “Sons Of Ham.” At age 14 she began touring Broadway with her sisters Olive and Maude. Even though their surname was Winfrey, they billed themselves as The Mills Sisters. Eventually Florence moved to Chicago and joined The Tennessee Ten which landed a supporting role in the Ziegfeld Follies. Later she found success as a solo artist in Harlem’s Lincoln Theater. Florence’s biggest break came when the star of Sissle and Blake’s 1921 hit Broadway musical “Shuffle Along” quit and she landed the role. She became an overnight sensation in the states and a tour of London made her a superstar. Florence contracted tuberculosis in 1926 and died. There are no films or recordings of Florence performing so here is a photo of the beautiful lady.
In 1924 one attempt was made to record Florence singing her most famous song “I’m A Little Blackbird Searching For A Bluebird” but it failed. Here’s a recording made just five days later. It’s The Clarence Williams Five featuring Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet with vocals by Eva Taylor.
Modern ears have, apparently, seriously misunderstood this early civil rights song. It’s about wanting equal access to the pursuit of happiness but somehow people managed to get the idea that the message was “Gee, I sure wish I was White.” I have no idea how people came to that conclusion but I’m glad I hear the song loud and clear!
I am seeing lots more cardinals and blue jays lately and I love it when that happens. They remind me once again that spring is coming. Granted blue birds (and red birds) are here all winter but still, when the entire world is brown and barren, that little splash of color seems all the more cheerful and good omen-y!