Following a failed marriage that wasn’t consummated at the age of 14 and a move to LA in her late teens, Bryant first performed in public in the late 1940s. She soon began recording for Okeh Records, and her first recording, “Drunk with Love”, was immediately banned on radio as too suggestive for airplay. “Love for Sale” (see below) was also banned.
Named one of the most beautiful black women in the world, Bryant regularly appeared in Jet. She earned $3,500 per gig (about $31,200.00 by today’s standards), making approximately $250,000 ($2.23M) annually on the nightclub scene in the early 1950s. She was the ultimate showstopper with her stunning beauty, hourglass figure and provocative outfits. Her backless, cleavage-revealing mermaid dresses were so tight that she had to be carried off-stage. In addition, Bryant supposedly twisted so much that she lost four pounds per performance.
It wasn’t until she was set to share the stage with Josephine Baker at an Easter benefit concert that she developed her signature. Not wanting to be upstaged, Bryant doused her hair with silver radiator paint, draped a floor length silver mink coat over a skintight silver gown, painted her nails silver and was met with “wild applause” from the audience. She had to wash the paint out with paint thinner but chose to keep her hair tinted silver, which ultimately badly damaged it.
While she was the first black performer to play the Aladdin Room at the Algiers Hotel in Miami, she was not allowed to do a photo shoot interacting with guests anywhere except for the nightclub and was also not even allowed to stay at the hotel. The Ku Klux Klan also burned her in effigy during the performance. After enduring drug and alcohol addiction, in addition to owing the IRS $60,000, Bryant was torn between stardom and her religious faith. By 1955, she had quit show business and entered Oakwood University, a historically black university owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, Alabama.
Bryant became an evangelist and briefly returned to the stage with foreign touring opera companies and singing on cruise ships and even clubs again (but without the silver hair and tight dresses) in the 1960s. Music historian Jim Byers tracked Bryant down in 2000 and began working on Joyce Bryant: The Lost Diva, a documentary based on the singer; however, not much is known about its release or Bryant’s later life.
JOYCE BRYANT — “LOVE FOR SALE”