Joyce Bryant sings for first time on a dare

It was 1946 and Joyce Bryant was a teenager visiting cousins in Los Angeles. They went to a local club where an impromptu singalong began. On a dare she got up on stage to sing. Soon she was the only one singing. The club owner offered her $25 to stay on stage. She needed the money to get home so she continued to perform.

This was the beginning of what would become a legendary career for Joyce Bryant. She became a top nightclub performer, famous for her voice and for her look.

Joyce used her fame to fight for civil rights, often speaking out against racial billing practices at nightclubs and hotels. She advocated and herself challenged Jim Crow laws, becoming the first black American to perform in many places around the United States. One such experience came in 1952, when she became the first Black entertainer to perform at a Miami Beach hotel, defying threats by the Ku Klux Klan.

Joyce tired of the nightclub scene by her late 20s and so she walked away from her lucrative career. She instead devoted herself to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, enrolling in Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. She then engaged in activist work, including organizing fundraisers for Black communities and working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement​.

Eventually though she returned to music. But this time, Joyce trained to become a classical vocalist. And just like her previous music career, she found success. Her efforts led to a contract with the New York City Opera and performances with other opera companies.

In her later years, Joyce once again left the music business, though she would continue to in the music scene.

Joyce passed away on November 20, 2022.

Black and white photograph of Joyce Bryant, an African American singer and actress from the mid-20th century. She stands confidently, facing the camera with a slight smile. Her hair is short and curly, adorned with flowers. She wears a strapless, striped gown with a sweetheart neckline that accentuates her figure. The background is simple and nondescript, focusing attention on her elegant poise.
Joyce Bryant, circa 1953

Listen to a song from Joyce Bryant:

Notes

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  • Story updated on December 1, 2023.

“Joyce Bryant sings for first time on a dare” sources

  • “Joyce Bryant’s Best Kept Secrets.” Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 7 (21): 59–61. March 31, 1955. ISSN 0021-5996
  • Photograph of Joyce taken in 1953 – Van Vechten, Carl, photographer. Portrait of Joyce Bryant. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004662641/>.