Jeni Le Gon
Jeni LeGon (August 14, 1916 – December 7, 2012) was an American dancer, dance instructor, and actress. She was one of the first African-American women to establish a solo career in tap.
She was born Jennie Bell in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents were Hector Ligon, a chef who also worked as a railway porter, and Harriet Bell Ligon, a housewife. She graduated from Sexton Elementary School in 1928, and at the age of thirteen got her first job in musical theater. She eventually auditioned for the chorus line of band leader Count Basie and was selected.
LeGon and her half-sister, Willa Mae Lane, formed a song-and-dance team. They were given the opportunity to go to Detroit and work with nightclub owner Leonard Reed. While there, they received an offer to travel to Hollywood and perform with composer Shelton Brooks. Upon arrival, they discovered there was, in fact, no job. LeGon heard about auditions being held by Ethel Waters' former manager, Earl Dancer. The audition was for a film that Fox Studios was producing. She won the part and subsequently appeared in dance numbers in several musicals.
While in Hollywood, LeGon had the opportunity to work with performers such as Ethel Waters and Al Jolson. She danced with Fred Astaire and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, becoming the first African-American woman to do so on screen. During this time, she was given a role in Hooray for Love, which led MGM to offer her a long-term contract, making LeGon the first African-American woman to receive such an opportunity. In 1969, LeGon settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she taught tap and point. In 1999, the National Film Board of Canada released Grant Greshuk’s prize-winning documentary Jeni Le Gon: Living in a Great Big Way.