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Celebrating Black History Month
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Celebrating Black History Month: Spotlight On Juanita Hall, the First Black Tony Award Winner

In 1950, Hall made Broadway history as the first Black actor to win a Tony Award for her performance in South Pacific.

To celebrate Black History Month, BroadwayWorld is spotlighting the lives and legacies of Black artists from every corner of the theatrical spectrum.

Today we honor the life and legacy of history-making Broadway performer, screen actor, and recording artist, Juanita Hall.

Who is Juanita Hall?

Juanita Hall was an American musical theatre and film actress. In 1950, Hall became the first Black actor to win a Tony Award for her portrayal of Bloody Mary in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.

Broadway Legacy

In addition to her history-making turn in South Pacific, Hall was personally chosen by Rodgers and Hammerstein to portray Madam Liang in Flower Drum Song, making her the rare exception among a predominately Asian cast.

Hall was also seen on Broadway in House of Flowers, St. Louis Woman, Sing Out, Sweet Land!, The Green Pastures, The Ponder Heart, Mr. Peebles and Mr. Hooker, The Secret Room, The Pirate, Sailor, Beware!, and Stevedore.

Hall also arranged and directed the choral music for George Abbott's dramatic adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a play titled Sweet River.

Film Credits

Her film career includes reprisals of her roles in the film adaptations of South Pacific and Flower Drum Song.

Despite her history-making achievement portraying Bloody Mary on stage, by 1957 her vocal quality had declined and she was having trouble sustaining high notes. Despite working closely with vocal arranger Ken Darby to restore her sound to its original tone, Richard Rodgers insisted that her singing be dubbed by Muriel Smith, who played Bloody Mary in the London production of the show.

According to those close to the film, Hall was a gracious about the dubbing and was grateful to preserve her Tony-winning performance in the adaptation. Ken Darby hailed Hall as one of the nicest and hardest working performers with whom he was ever privileged to work.

Her film resume also includes roles in Harlem Follies of 1949, Miracle in Harlem, and Paradise in Harlem.

She was seen on television in the Hallmark Hall of Fame, Schlitz Playhouse, Captain Billy's Mississippi Music Hall, Pontiac Star Parade, The Vaudeville Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Star of the Family, Sugar Hill Times, and more.

Honors and Awards

Hall took home the 1950 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and a Donaldson Award for her performance in South Pacific.

Additional Achievements

In addition to her acting resume, Hall was classically trained at Julliard and began her career working in the Lincoln settlement house in East Orange, teaching music to child and adult choruses. In the early 1930s, she was made a special soloist and assistant director for the Hall Johnson Choir. She is also the founder of the The Juanita Hall Choir

Greatly inspired by blues singer Bessie Smith, Hall was a regular performer in blues and jazz clubs in Greenwich Village and in 1958, she recorded an album, Juanita Hall Sings the Blues.

Hall performs her signature song from South Pacific, "Bal'i Hai"

Hall performs 'Happy Talk' on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of South Pacific:

Hall performs a cover of the Bessie Smith tune, "Baby Won't You Please Come Home?"

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From This Author Alexa Criscitiello