Black and BluePosted: March 2, 2012
On the 27th February, the singer Elisabeth Welch (1904 -2003) was commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque in south-west London. She is the second black women to have received this hounour (the first was Jamaican born nurse, Mary Seacole).
Born in New York, Welch had a rich cultural heritage through her father John, who was Native American and African-American and her mother Elisabeth, who was of Irish and Scottish descent, however like many African-American performers of her time, found greater success in Europe than in the United States.
After starting her career in New York, Welch performed in popular clubs in Paris and London, and, later, in British films.
She settled in London in 1933, which remained her home until she passed away just a few months shy of her 100th birthday.
The 1930s saw Welch become a trailblazer for black women in Britain. It was the decade where Ivor Novello wrote songs for her; Paul Robeson was her leading man in films; and Welch enjoyed popularity as a cabaret star of London’s cafe society.
In 1931 she introduced the famous torch song “Stormy Weather” to British audiences. Watch her singing it here many years later in 1980 (more about this performance is written below).
In 1934 she was the first black broadcaster to be given her own radio series, Soft Lights and Sweet Music, by the BBC. Her many radio shows include two guest appearances on Desert Island Discs.
In the later years of her life Welch stopped the show once again in the 1970 musical, Pippin, made new records, and also gave what was perhaps the most startling appearance of her film career in Derek Jarman’s Tempest (1980), at the end of which she sings a typically poised version of Stormy Weather surrounded by a chorus line of leaping, high-stepping sailors. There were those who thought she was the best thing about that controversial interpretation of Shakespeare.
In high old age, Elisabeth Welch continued to sing with great aplomb; recordings from the mid-1980s indicate greater maturity of interpretation than ever. In 1992 stars gathered at the Lyric Theatre in London to pay tribute to Elisabeth Welch in the Crusaid Concert; where she was given an unprecedented five standing ovations.
She was also known for her style and class as well as for her voice.
Recreate her classic old school, glamorous look.
Create a smooth matte base with Studio Fix compact foundation by MAC (£19)
For decades, a red lipstick paired with strong black eyeliner has been the vanguard of makeup for any showbiz starlet. Accentuate the eye by sweeping a golden eyes hadow across the entire eye, right up to the brow bone. I like Silent Night by NARS (£16.50).
Line the eye with a liquid eyeliner pen for ease of application (Revlon ColorStay Liquid Eye Pen in black is ideal, £8.99 ).
Curl lashes and then apply lashings of thickening mascara. I love High Impact mascara by Clinique ((£16) for its intense black pigment.
A show girl must have ruby red lips – and in my opinion Ruby Woo by MAC (£13.50) works well with a lighter skin tone such as Welches, but for a darker tone such as my own, I prefer a deeper red with blue undertones – my all time favourite is Russian Red by MAC. Apply with a lip brush, blot – then apply a second coat.
Finish with an illuminating bronzer, such as the cult classic Shimmer Brick in Bronze by Bobbi Brown (£30.50).
Who will be the next black woman to be recognised in this way? I hope we do not have to wait to long to find out!