Actress/singer Dorothy Dandridge was Hollywood's first African-American superstar, becoming the first black performer ever nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Born November 9, 1923 in Cleveland, she was the daughter of actress Ruby Dandridge, and with sister Vivian teamed in the song-and-dance duo the Wonder Children. The family relocated to Los Angeles during the mid-'30s, and in 1937 Dandridge briefly made her film debut in the Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races.
Concurrently she continued her singing career, and with Vivian performed as the Dandridge Sisters, sharing stages with the likes of Jimmie Lunceford and Cab Calloway as well as recording with Louis Armstrong. During the early '40s Dorothy appeared in a series of musical film shorts, and as the decade progressed she became a sensation on the nightclub circuit. Dandridge's mainstream breakthrough was her title role in Otto Preminger's 1954 screen musical Carmen Jones, a performance which earned her an Academy Award nomination and made her a star; nevertheless, she did not reappear onscreen until 1957's Island in the Sun, and despite winning a Golden Globe for her work in 1959's Porgy and Bess she was offered virtually no future film roles, returning to nightclubs by the early '60s.
Plagued by years of personal hardships as well as professional hurdles, Dandridge was found dead of an overdose of anti-depressants on September 8, 1965. Three decades later her career enjoyed a kind of renaissance with an acclaimed 1997 biography by film historian Donald Bogle in addition to Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, a 1999 HBO telefilm starring Halle Berry. Smooth Operator, a long-unreleased recording date from 1958 featuring the Oscar Peterson trio, was finally issued in 1999 as well. ~ Jason Ankeny