JOYCE BRYANT: The Lost Diva
JOYCE BRYANT: The Lost Diva is the first feature length documentary (currently in-progress) about one of America's most enigmatic entertainers. Determined to be an artist on her own terms, Joyce Bryant's story is a case-study of how popular culture's 'celebrity machine' shapes who we remember - and who we forget.
With re-discovered footage unseen for over 50 years, viewers can experience the extraordinary stage-craft of a woman once renowned as much for her four-and-a-half octave range and metalic-silver hair as for her pioneering stances against racial discrimination. Interviews with Ms. Bryant reveal why she abandoned a career as a nightclub headliner in late-1955, and re-emerged a decade later as a leading-lady with the New York City Opera. A riveting window into the racially-conflicted glamour of mid-20th Century entertainment, the documentary also features commentary and/or interviews with a range of her contemporaries, including:
BERLE ADAMS - Mercury Records-founder, and MCA super-agent for Bryant as well as Dorothy Dandridge, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Jordan and Dinah Washington.
"CUBAN PETE" Aguillar - NYC's legendary Palladium mambo dancer, and partner Barbara Craddock.
CAB CALLOWAY - iconic entertainer and big bandleader.
MAURICE HINES - legendary dancer/choreographer.
CLYDE KILLENS - Miami's pioneering African-American concert promoter.
As a teen in the mid-1980's, broadcaster and filmmaker JIM BYERS stumbled across several articles about Joyce Bryant at the public library. "Even as a teenager, I realized that only major African-American stars rated feature articles in 'mainstream' magazines such as LIFE and TIME back in 1953." Yet, Joyce Bryant is virtually absent from current histories of '50s pop music. "It didnt make sense, and that fascinated me," Byers says of her obscurity. "When I began collecting her, noted dealers at Black memorabilia shows would routinely ask me who she was." He became increasingly intrigued by Bryant's story: Why were her records banned and still unavailable? Why was she absent from each of the 1950's Hollywood films that it was reported that she had made? Why did she give up her career?
"How did you find me..., WHY did you find me!?, "a disbelieving Bryant laughed into the telephone. By 1998 Byers was a freelance music critic for The Washington Post when he searched 6-months for the long-retired vocalist in order to propose a feature article. The two established a great rapport over several months and, feeling that her amazing story demanded more than an article, Byers received permission to be the singer's authorized biographer.
In the midst of that research, opportunity quickly transformed the project into a documentary. With his Co-executive Producer ROB FARR (Co-Founder of the Slapsticon silent comedy film festival, and Executive producer for Arlington Virginia Network/AVN) filming began in 1999, with initial support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, the Florida Humanities Council, John Harrington Photography of Washington DC, and the City of Santa Monica, CA.
Although most of the interviews were completed by 2005, Byers decided to halt final production while continuing research. With every interviewee from the great Nancy Wilson to Berle Adams asserting that Joyce Bryant was one of the most riveting live entertainers of the early-1950's, "I felt strongly that it would be an injustice to complete the documentary using still photo montages set to recordings," says Byers. "As obscure as Bryant now is, it is critical that she be properly contextualized. I was convinced that something would turn-up. I had no idea it would take six years to find."
Until now, the only footage of Bryant in her prime was an early Ed Sullivan Show appearance, filmed several months before she transformed into the silver-haired, sheath gowned siren of international fame. Finally, in 2008 Byers research uncovered two spectacular lost performances buried in private collections, showcasing Bryant with several show business legends! For the first time in 55 years, documentary audiences will experience the stage-craft of the forgotten entertainer Walter Winchell called "The Voice You'll Always Remember."