|Born||November 6, 1919|
Meridian, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||May 23, 1978 (aged 58)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Dancer, singer, choreographer|
Bryant was born in Meridian, Mississippi, moving with her family as a child to New Orleans, Louisiana. By the age of 10 she was performing impersonations of Josephine Baker at her church. In her teens, her dance teacher, Mary Bruce, included her in her annual show at the Regal Theater in Chicago. She made her professional debut with Louis Armstrong at the Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago in 1934, and became a regular singer and dancer in the venue's floor shows. She then performed in Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton, and at the Cotton Club in New York City with Duke Ellington.
By 1939, she was a featured attraction at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and toured nationally with Duke Ellington. In Los Angeles, she performed in Ellington's 1941 musical revue Jump For Joy, featuring the hit number "Bli-Blip". She also appeared as the head of a dance troupe in the movie Carolina Blues, and sang in the 1944 short film Jammin' the Blues, accompanied by Lester Young, Barney Kessel and others. In 1946 she starred in the musical show Beggar's Holiday, with music by Ellington and lyrics by John LaTouche.
She also began working as a teacher at the dance schools run by Katherine Dunham and Eugene Loring, where she taught actors including Marlon Brando. In 1948 she was a headline act at the Florentine Gardens in Los Angeles, which renamed itself as the Cotton Club, and then taught burlesque and other routines to dancers in the chorus line at the club. She appeared in the RKO movie They Live By Night, as well as Betty Grable's 20th Century Fox film Wabash Avenue, and toured the US in The Big Show of 1951 with Ethel Waters, Sarah Vaughan and Nat 'King' Cole. She continued to teach dance moves to film actors, working with Gene Kelly – who called her "one of the finest dancers I've ever seen in my life" – Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Betty Grable, Ava Gardner and others. She worked as a dance coach and choreographer for Paramount, 20th Century Fox, MGM and Columbia, and developed her own dance teaching style which she called "controlled release".
Bryant continued to appear in musical shows into the early 1950s. In 1952 she toured with the Harlem Blackbirds, and married the company manager John A. Rajakumar. The following year she appeared in London in the musical High Spirits, and performed around Europe, and in Australia and New Zealand. While in London in 1953 she performed a satirical anti-apartheid calypso song, "The Plea", with a refrain of "Don't malign Malan because he dislikes our tan", which created controversy at the time of South African Prime Minister D. F. Malan's visit to Britain to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. She returned to the US after Rajakumar became ill; he died in 1965.
She died of cancer in Los Angeles in 1978, at the age of 58.
- Prescod, Janette (1996). Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women, Book II. Thomson Gale. pp. 71–73. ISBN 978-0810391772.
- "Marie Bryant Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
- "People Are". Jet. 2 (16): 44. 14 August 1952. ISSN 0021-5996.
- "Marie Bryant's Song Riles South African Minister; British Censors Laugh It Off". The Afro-American. 13 June 1953. p. 6.