April 9, 1950- Juanita Hall

GM – FBF – I love it when I come across a New Jersey talent. Keyport, NJ is where Juanita Hall grew up and Matawan, NJ was laid to rest.

Remember – ” South Pacific was the musical that made me a household name and I enjoyed winning the award. – Juanita Hall

Today in our History – April 9, 1950 – Wins Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress ( South Pacific).

Juanita Hall (née Long, November 6, 1901 – February 28, 1968) was an American musical theatre and film actress. She is remembered for her roles in the original stage and screen versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals South Pacific as Bloody Mary – a role that garnered her the Tony Award – and Flower Drum Song as Madame Liang.

Born in Keyport, New Jersey, Hall received classical training at the Juilliard School. In the early 1930s, she was a special soloist and assistant director for the Hall Johnson Choir. A leading black Broadway performer in her day, she was personally chosen by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to perform the roles she played in the musicals South Pacific and Flower Drum Song, as a Tonkinese woman and a Chinese-American, respectively.

In 1950, she became the first African American to win a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. She also starred in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers in which she sang and danced Harold Arlen’s Slide Boy Slide. She played the role of Bloody Mary for 1,925 performances on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre beginning on April 7, 1949. Her co-stars were Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin. In addition to her role in South Pacific, she was a regular performer in clubs in Greenwich Village, where she captivated audiences with her renditions of “Am I Blue?”, “Lament Over Love”, and Langston Hughes’ “Cool Saturday Night”.

Prior to her acting roles, she assembled her own chorus group (The Juanita Hall Choir) and kept busy with performances in concert, on records, in films, and on the air. She auditioned for “Talent 48”, a private review created by the Stage Manager’s Club. Later, she performed on radio in the soap opera The Story Of Ruby Valentine on the National Negro Network. The serial was broadcast on 35 stations, and sponsors of the broadcast included Philip Morris and Pet Milk.

In 1958, she recorded Juanita Hall Sings the Blues (at Beltone Studios in New York City), backed by an astonishing group of jazz musicians including Claude Hopkins, Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, Doc Cheatham, and George Duvivier. In 1958 she reprised Bloody Mary in the film version of South Pacific, for which her singing part was dubbed, at Richard Rodgers’s request, by Muriel Smith, who had played the role in the London production. The same year, Hall starred in another Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway show, Flower Drum Song.

Hall married actor Clement Hall while in her teens. He died in the 1920s; they had no children. Hall, a diabetic, died from complications of her illness. She had been living at the Percy William Actors home in East Islip, New York. Leonard Feather gave a particularly moving tribute to Hall at the time of her death when he proclaimed her “an expert student and practitioner in the art of singing the blues”. Research more about this American Shero and share with your babies. Make it a champion day!