Florence Mills

Florence Mills

Florence Mills
Mid 1920s
Black and white photograph
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

London first saw Florence Mills in C.B.Cochran’s revue Dover Street to Dixie in 1923. There were rumours that an anti-coloured demonstration was planned, but after one song, London was at her feet. Cochran later presented her in the smash hit black revue Black Birds. Mills never overtly wooed her audience, yet always aroused them to wild enthusiasm. Cochran remembered her voice, ‘bird-like, with a throb in it such as I have never heard in any other. In her quietest moment her eyes would suddenly flash, her beautiful little vibrant face would light up, and her frail, lithe limbs would become animated with a sort of dancing delirium’. He considered Mills one of the greatest stars he ever presented. She was born in 1895, to ex-slaves in a Washington, D.C. slum. By the age of four, she was performing on stage. By the 1920s, she was the toast of Broadway and London and the first black woman featured in Vogue. She became a role model and her success helped audiences accept black performers. Her trademark song, ‘I'm a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird’ was a protest against racial inequality. Mills died in 1927, aged only 31. At her funeral the mourners sang her hit song ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’.