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Florence Mills

Harlem Jazz Queen

Bill Egan

This biography reveals the lost history of the life of Florence Mills, who was very famous during the 1920s, and traces her story from childhood to her untimely death at age 31. Mills who was probably the first black female international superstar, was lionized by crowned heads in Europe and described by English show business impresario C.B. Cochran as "one of the greatest artists that ever walked on to a stage." Although her career and shows changed the nature of black entertainment, and thereby the wider American popular culture, she was largely forgotten in later years.

An additional theme of the book is the important but little-known associations Florence Mills had in the early world of jazz and ragtime, and her innovative influence on important aspects of jazz singing. It explores the connections between her and Duke Ellington, who dedicated his outstanding composition "Black Beauty" to her.

Will be of interest to librarians, jazz fans, especially those interested in Duke Ellington, and anyone interested in the history of musical theater.
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Scarecrow Press
Pages: 224Size: 7 x 9
978-0-8108-5007-1 • Paperback • October 2004 • $47.00 • (£31.95)
Series: Studies in Jazz
Subjects: Music / General
Bill Egan is an Irish-born citizen of Australia and has pursued a lifelong interest in jazz and African American culture.
Chapter 1 Dedication
Chapter 2 Acknowledgments
Chapter 3 Editor's Foreword
Chapter 4 Preface
Chapter 5 Introduction
Chapter 6 Abbreviations
Chapter 7 1. Young Florence
Chapter 8 2. Out in the World
Chapter 9 3. The Rocky Road to Fame
Chapter 10 4. Shufflin' to the Top
Chapter 11 5. Transatlatic Star
Chapter 12 6. Dixie Dreams
Chapter 13 7. The Great White Way
Chapter 14 8. A Blackbird Takes Wing
Chapter 15 9. Looking for a Bluebird in Europe
Chapter 16 10. Black Birds of 1927
Chapter 17 11. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Chapter 18 12. Bye Bye Blackbird
Chapter 19 13. Florence Mills: A Reappraisal
Chapter 20 Appendix 1: Black Beauty
Chapter 21 Appendix 2: Other Commemorative Items
Chapter 22 Bibliography
Chapter 23 Index
Chapter 24 About the Author
The book is methodically researched and carefully documented, using primary source material that has only recently become available; the latter includes numerous interviews with Mills and her husband. A fine addition to the "Studies in Jazz" series, this well-written biography provides rich insights into an important figure in American music. Recommended.

Suffice it to say that there are few individuals who have ever heard of Florence Mills, and that includes some resolute jazz enthusiasts. But through much persistence Bill Egan has changed that and has illuminated our awareness of this entertainment legend....Harlem Jazz Queen explores the association between Florence and the early beginnings of jazz and ragtime, her keen intelligence and strong social conscience, and her phenomenal success as the first black international female superstar. It also documents her association with classical music with noted composers William Grant Still and Constant Lambert. This is a history that was too long coming, but one that will captivate and enlighten readers.
The Rawsistaz Reviewers

I enjoyed Florence Mills: Harlem Jazz Queen, by Bill Egan. It's an exhaustively thorough biography of a woman who was arguably the first international African American female star of the entertainment world....Mills is largely forgotten today, but Mr. Egan's affectionate and scholarly and immensely entertaining biography should correct that. His book is a monument not only to Mills' memory, but to the history of popular theatre as it matured via jazz from vaudeville to Broadway.
Eric Washington, National Public Radio, Summer Reading: The Listeners Choose

Welcome addition to the jazz canon...Mills' artistic contributions come to life again in Bill Egan's prose....documenting this entertainer par excellence...Egan also provides the reader with an always important historical context.

Elegantly written and illustrated, this fascinating volume, ten years in the making, is a worthy addition to Scarecrow's 'Studies in Jazz' series and a fine read at that.
Jazz Uk Magazine

Bill Egan has created a first-rate biography, researched with passion, scholarly detail and clear commitment to the documentation of jazz artistry and culture...
Bill Banfield, Director, American Cultural Studies/Jazz, University of St. Thomas

By dint of dedicated and meticulous research, Bill Egan has managed to almost bring his subject back to life. She emerges from these pages not as a relic from the past but as a surprisingly contemporary and fully fledged human being, a woman not only of great beauty, charm and talent, but also of remarkable intelligence and humanity.
Dan Morgenstern, director, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University; dean of jazz historians; editor, Studies in Jazz series

As the first black female international superstar, jazz singer Florence Mills (1896-1927) changed the nature of black entertainment and opened doors for generations of performers. This text considers her influence on some important aspects of jazz singing and describes her connections with Duke Ellington. Independent scholar Egan concludes by examining Mills' association with classical music through composers William Grant Still and Constant Lambert.
Reference and Research Book News

...a unique biography of the African American entertainer of the 1920s from childhood to her death at age 31.
The Bookwatch

Florence Mills, who died tragically young in 1927, was undoubtedly the most influential female black entertainer of her day...Bill Egan's deeply rewarding book reflects his 10 years work by taking us through her life and career in meticulous detail...organised with clarity in an easy straightforward style.
The Jazz Rag

...this well written and comprehensive biography will be an invaluable reference as well as paying tribute to an extraordinary performer.
The Irish Echo

Max Rodriguez; QBR: The Black Book Review

This is undeniably the best book on jazz I have ever read.
The Jazz Gazette

Bill Egan's excellent new biography Florence Mills: Harlem Jazz Queen brings this crucial figure back to life, showing her important role in jazz and indeed African-American history....Egan skillfully interweaves Mills' personal journey with historical background, showing the vitality and rough edges in this rich period of early jazz....thanks goodness for Egan, whose ten years of meticulous, tenacious research has at last given Mills a proper biography....the book's rich selection of photographs shows Mills shining with a vitality that's inspiring even eight decades after her death.
All About Jazz

Bill Egan collects data carefully and is excellent in analyzing Mills' impact on the culture and her central role in black show business as it matured....Egan's book well conveys Mills' charismatic power....well researched and well written, useful to anyone with any interest in American music and culture.
The Mississippi Rag, September 2006

Egan has done a first class job of assembling his material...I'd recommend this book to anyone wanting more information on a key figure of the Twentieth century musical theatre...
VJM's Jazz and Blues Mart, No. 145 (Spring 2007)

• Winner, Honorable Mention, Kurt Weill Prize 2005