Juanita Hall playing Bloody Mary in the original production of South Pacific
November 6, 1901
Keyport, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||February 28, 1968
Bay Shore, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Singer and actress|
Juanita Hall (née Long, November 6, 1901 – February 28, 1968) was an American musical theatre and film actress. She is remembered for her roles in the original stage and screen versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals South Pacific as Bloody Mary - a role that garnered her the Tony Award - and Flower Drum Song as Auntie Liang.
Born in Keyport, New Jersey, Hall received classical training at the Juilliard School. In the early 1930s, she was a special soloist and assistant director for the Hall Johnson Choir. A leading black Broadway performer in her day, she was personally chosen by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to perform the roles she played in the musicals South Pacific and Flower Drum Song, as a Tonkinese woman and a Chinese-American, respectively.
In 1950, she became the first African American to win a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. She also starred in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers in which she sang and danced Harold Arlen's Slide Boy Slide. She played the role of Bloody Mary for 1,925 performances on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre beginning on April 7, 1949. Her co-stars were Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin. In addition to her role in South Pacific, she was a regular performer in clubs in Greenwich Village, where she captivated audiences with her renditions of "Am I Blue?", "Lament Over Love", and Langston Hughes' "Cool Saturday Night".
Prior to her acting roles, she assembled her own chorus group (The Juanita Hall Choir) and kept busy with performances in concert, on records, in films, and on the air. She auditioned for "Talent 48", a private review created by the Stage Manager's Club. Later, she performed on radio in the soap opera The Story Of Ruby Valentine on the National Negro Network. The serial was broadcast on 35 stations, and sponsors of the broadcast included Philip Morris and Pet Milk.
In 1958, she recorded Juanita Hall Sings the Blues (at Beltone Studios in New York City), backed by an astonishing group of jazz musicians including Claude Hopkins, Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, Doc Cheatham, and George Duvivier. In 1958 she reprised Bloody Mary in the film version of South Pacific, for which her singing part was dubbed, at Richard Rodgers's request, by Muriel Smith, who had played the role in the London production. The same year, Hall starred in another Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway show, Flower Drum Song.
Hall married actor Clement Hall while in her teens. He died in the 1920s; they had no children. Hall, a diabetic, died from complications of her illness. She had been living at the Percy William Actors home in East Islip, New York. Leonard Feather gave a particularly moving tribute to Hall at the time of her death when he proclaimed her "an expert student and practitioner in the art of singing the blues".
- William Barlow (1999). Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio. Temple University Press. pp. 130–1. ISBN 1-56639-667-0.
- Lewis, David H. (2006). Flower Drum Songs: The Story of Two Musicals. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co. Inc. p. 46. ISBN 0-7864-2246-7.
- Time writers (6 June 1949). "After 21 Years". Time. Retrieved 2008-07-12.
- "Juanita Hall, Great Singer, Great Actress". African American Registry. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2008-07-12.