The Dandridge Sisters are an all black girl singing trio in the 1930's whose most famous member, Dorothy Dandridge, will go on to be the first black woman nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award in 1955 for her role in "Carmen Jones." The Dandridge Sisters are comprised of Dorothy and her older sister Vivian and their friend Etta Jones - not to be confused with the well-known jazz vocalist, Etta James. You'd be surprised how many articles incorrectly list James as a member of this trio. The Dandridge Sisters find success on radio shows and in Los Angeles nightclubs. It was in one of these nightclubs that they are invited to perform at the iconic Harlem nightclub, the Cotton Club. The Sisters are so popular at the Cotton Club that they are given a regular spot in the show. They are only 14-years-old at the time.
Hard at work on Dead in Hollywood: Dorothy Dandridge (Issue #9) and I’m finding it difficult to pull myself away from her mother, Ruby’s, story. Ruby was a successful radio and television actress in her own right who left her husband to live with her “companion” in 1922 America. Can you imagine? Sadly, her companion, Geneva Williams, was not a good woman. She overworks Dorothy and her sister, Vivian, and sexually assaults Dorothy one night after Dorothy returns home from her first date with a boy. I’d love to learn more about Geneva, but she’s become a footnote in another footnote’s footnotes.
Reading up on Dorothy Dandridge's life, I find myself drawn to her mother, Ruby Dandridge. Five months before Dorothy is born, Ruby leaves her husband, Cyril Dandridge, and moves in with her "companion," Geneva Williams. This was 1922! A black woman divorcing her husband was almost unheard of at the time and not to mention the fact that Ruby was also pregnant with Dorothy. But that's exactly what she does. She chooses not only to survive but to thrive in the repressed society of the 1920’s. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for Ruby.