The phrase ‘pinup girl’ has become synonymous with women like Bettie Page, Betty Grable and Tempest Storm. But black women, although overlooked, were a part of the movement towards more liberal expressions of sexuality in the 20th century. But much like other branches of entertainment, the world of pinup modeling was rampant with racist beauty ideals. A well‐known freelance photographer, Howard Morehead overheard a fairly prominent photographer give his own ignorant reasoning behind the lack of black models at the time:
Though largely unsung, these beautiful black women were models and dancers who paved the way for modern black woman entertainers.
Lottie the Body Graves
Lottie was a classically trained dancer out of Syracuse, NY. She was known for performing her craft of burlesque dancing in white clubs during the height of segregation.
Toni Elling was a burlesque dancer out of Detroit. She is said to be the inspiration behind Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll. Elling entered the world of burlesque in 1960 at the age of 32, which at the time would’ve been fairly late in the game. Despite age, Elling’s career lasted of more than a decade and she still performs today.
Ethelyn Butler was a six‐foot tall “shake dancer” turned fortune teller.
Madeleine Sahji Jackson
Sahji Jackson was a shake dancer best known for her appearance in the 1947 movie Jivin’ in Bebop with Dizzy Gillespie. Jackson’s moves are one of a kind and some even speculate she is one of the first American contributors to the popular twerk dance. She later became a popular singer in South America.
Marie Bryant was a dancer, singer and choreographer. Bryant was known as one of the most vivacious dancers in the United States. She performed at the Cotton Club at its height alongside Duke Ellington. She later would go on to teach dance to the likes of Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds and Bob Hope.
Jean Idelle was one of the first black burlesque dancers. Most known for her fan dance performances in which she adorned herself in white ostrich feathers, Idelle raked in a whopping $12,000 a year ($104,000 present day).
Are there any black pinups you can add to this list? Please comment if you know the identity of the unknown women.