5 Inspiring Female Entertainers Who Weren't In Your History Books
As an actress of Mexican-English mixed heritage, I am constantly searching for inspirational women who share my culture. So you can imagine my delight when one evening before a Netflix binge I happened upon a Google doodle of Mexican film star, Katy Jurado. I became enamored with her, and I couldn’t believe that it took until my senior year as a theatre major to learn about her contribution to the arts. That got me thinking about all of the other women whose stories may be stuck on the shelves.
As is very evident today, representation matters. These five women are certainly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to amazing women who made contributions to the arts and, as a result, our society.
I encourage you to dig deeper, so that you can tell their stories and the stories of countless others.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Katy Jurado was the first Latin American woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. She was known for playing femme fatales, a stock character featuring a mysterious and seductive woman who uses her charms to ensnare her lovers, during her impressive career in Mexican film and Hollywood. She later became the first Latin American woman to win a Golden Globe. Jurado worked all throughout her life, with her last film premiering in 2002 shortly after her passing.
Soulful sound bite: In order to support her family, in addition to acting, Jurado worked as a bullfighting critic, movie columnist, and radio reporter.
Dolores del Rio
Dolores del Rio paved the way for Mexican actresses, such as Katy Jurado, by becoming the first Mexican actress to successfully generate a career in Hollywood. Early in her career, del Rio often danced for charity at local hospitals, which is where she met her future partner and husband Jaime Martinez del Rio. The two broke with their families’ wishes and Mexican societal values upon being offered an opportunity in Hollywood due to Dolores’ talent as a performer. She was a friend to Frida Kahlo and a supporter of many influential Mexican artists. Later in her career she decided to delve into theatre, and employed renowned acting coach Stella Adler to help her improve her stage performance. She debuted at the Falmouth Playhouse in Massachusetts on July 6th, 1956, and went on to complete a tour of seven other theaters in New England.
Soulful sound bite: She helped found the Cultural Festival Cervantino in Guanajuato, and Rosa Mexicano, a union group that provided childcare for those in the Mexican Actors’ Guild.
Recording over 60 albums in her lifetime, Carmen McRae is considered to be one of the most important figures of American jazz. McRae began her career early, working in one of Harlem’s most famous jazz clubs as a pianist and chorus girl. During the span of her career she recorded alongside the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, and her personal friend and inspiration, Billie Holiday.
Soulful sound bite: McRae was nominated for seven Grammy awards, five of which were for Best Jazz Vocalist.
Aida Overton Walker
From the start, Aida, often billed as Ada, was different. She was classically trained in musical theatre and simply wouldn’t bend to stereotype as an African-American Vaudeville performer. Instead of playing on suggestiveness, which was common at the time, Aida chose to follow a more stylistic approach to her routines. She was known for infusing modern dance, which was often considered a risky choice for a performer of color, and while working in England, she was the highest paid performer of the Williams and Walker Company. Walker believed in using performance as a vessel to facilitate change in race relations, and even wrote on the topic.
Soulful sound bite: Before her tragic passing, Aida Overton Walker was heavily involved in passing on her legacy to the arts by organizing trainings geared towards helping other young girls of color improve their performance technique in her artistic, elegant method.
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong was a pioneer of Asian-American film by becoming the first Chinese-American film star to gain international recognition. Wong began her career by sheer will as a child in California, notably showing up on set repeatedly to ask the producers to cast her in one of their films. Her career took off shortly after her first film as a teenager, The Toll of the Sea, and Wong quickly became disenfranchised with being typecast as the token Asian role, as she felt that her acting career should be based on more than her ethnicity. She then moved to Europe where she had a successful career in film and television before later returning to Hollywood. Wong raised a very poignant topic as an Asian American when she had an unfortunate press tour in China. She claimed that she could never work in Chinese theatre, unfortunately, because among her people she felt “too American.” Wong’s career, however, helped humanize Chinese-Americans to white audiences at a time in which racism and racial laws dominated society, and she established herself as a Chinese-American citizen, dispelling the notion that the East and West are inherently different.
Soulful sound bite: Wong frequently auctioned off her costume pieces and donated the proceeds to Chinese refugee aid.
Do you have a favorite female entertainer? Tell us more in the comments!
Featured image via: CarmenMcRae.com