CONTEXT

November 28, 2013

Remembering the forgotten man

While you’re watching drill teams and marching bands today, give a thought to the master of synchronized human movement – Busby Berkeley was born 118 years ago tomorrow. (That, btw, was part of his real name: Busby Berkeley William Enos.

His kaleidoscopic dance numbers are deservedly famous, but here’s one from his early days – Gold Diggers of 1933 – which is curiously political.  But the most interesting part for me was the discovery of Etta Moten, a star of the Thirties and Forties whose name I’d never heard before. She, along with Joan Blondell, is one of two featured singers in the number.

Etta Moten was George Gershwin’s personal choice for Bess in Porgy and Bess – he reportedly wrote the character with her in mind. Moten was also the first African-American to perform at the White House (for the Roosevelts). She retired from singing in her early 50s and devoted the rest of her life to civic and cultural causes in Chicago. She died in 2004 at the age of 102.

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