Known for her perfect hour-glass figure and incredibly sultry act, jazz singer Joyce Bryant was dubbed “the black Marilyn Monroe”. Much like Monroe’s, Bryant’s life and talent were marked by failed relationships and pills.

Born in Oakland, but raised in San Francisco as the oldest of eight children,  Joyce eloped at age 14. Although the marriage ended on the wedding night, it outraged her devout Seventh Day Adventist mother and Joyce ended up moving to Los Angeles to live with cousins.

There, she started singing in clubs, quickly building an enthusiastic following. Her tight, low-cut mermaid dresses left little to the imagination and were allegedly so tight she had to be carried onto and off the stage, while Bryant’s sexy dance moves and energetic twists meant she lost four pounds during each performance.

Bryant’s hair was naturally black, but not wanting to be upstaged by Josephine Baker at a club, she doused it with silver radiator paint. The Bronze Blond Bombshell was born, and even Baker was impressed.

The gimmick and her evocative voice made her a star, and she could earn as much as 3,500 dollars a gig in the early Fifties. She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world and regularly appeared in Afro-American magazines like Jet.

She recorded a series of 78s for OKeh Records with the Joe Reisman Orchestra which include “It’s Only Human,” “Go Where You Go,” “A Shoulder to Weep On,” “After You’ve Gone,” and “Farewell to Love.” Two recordings, “Love for Sale” and “Drunk With Love,” were banned from radio play – her voice was deemed too sexy.

As quickly as she became a star, as fast did she also fade from fame. The silver paint permanently damaged her hair and she increasingly became more religious, doubting her sexual image. She was once beaten in her dressing room for refusing an admirer’s advances. Years later, in an interview with  Essence magazine, she confessed that she had quickly stopped enjoying her career but couldn’t quit due to bad management and long-term bookings.

She found solace in pills and became addicted to uppers and downers. Her career ended in 1955 when – despite owing over $60,000 in tax – she enrolled in a Seventh Day Adventist College in Alabama and later became an evangelist.

Always a performer at heart, she returned to singing during the Sixties and toured with foreign opera companies and sang on cruise ships, but this time without the stage act and bombshell image.


5 Responses

  1. Retta

    The Bronze Bombshell. I like it,growing up I had seen photographs in magazines, however growing up in a SDA family I would not have heard her recordings.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Jenny

    “Although the marriage ended on the wedding night (without being consumed)” – the word is “consummated”. Other than that a brilliant article, and I shall have to read more about this talented lady!

    • Lena

      Thanks – I love nothing more than people correcting grammar mistakes.