TUESDAY, JUNE 7th, 7:30pm
Heritage Playhouse

Jeni LeGon will be present to answer questions after the showing.
"Living in a Great Big Way". . . This film profiles Jeni LeGon, the first black woman to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. The now in her 80s, LeGon recounts her Chicago childhood, her early love for dancing which led to being chosen as solo performer for the Count Basie Chorus Line, which in turn landed her a role with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the film Hurray for Love, followed by over a dozen other films, all of which showcased her remarkable talents. Active as a dance teacher today, the still effervescent LeGon reminisces about her show business career and frankly discusses how, confronted by the 'color barrier' of a segregated Hollywood, she followed the example of Josephine Baker and toured on the European cabaret circuit. Rousing dance sequences from LeGon's films of the Thirties and Forties are blended with archival footage of Fats Waller, Paul Robeson and Cab Calloway to provide an inspiring portrait of a talented African-American artist and an informative history of tap dance.
Directed by Grant Greschuk - 1999, color, 48 mins.
more info below
A short intermission and then

This Sunshine Coast quartet will take the stage for the second half of the evening to accompany Dr. LeGon and play some of their own tunes. The Quartet features the stellar sax of Ken Grunenberg with his bebop sound, and the tight Joe Pass style guitar of Steve Giltrow. Rounding out the rhythm section is Joe De Leo on fretless or acoustic bass and Graham Walker on drums.

Formed three years ago, 'Cedar Groove' has developed an enthusiastic following in their home base of the Sunshine Coast. They play regularly around the Coast, and like to take on special projects such as hosting 'Duke Ellington's Birthday Party', backing such singers as Kate Hammet-Vaughan, Karin Plato, Jennifer Scott and more.

pictures from Jeni's past

'Hooray For Love' (1936) Jeni LeGon & Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson
1936 promotion shot
1936 "Fools For Scandal"
clip from NFB film "Living in a Great Big Way"

Dancer, actress, and dance instructor Jeni LeGon was born Jennie Ligon on August 14, 1916 in Chicago, Illinois. Later, in London, she learned that she was descended from General Henry Beauchamp Lygon, the 4th Earl of Beauchamp, through her father, Hector Ligon, a "Geechie" from the Georgia Sea Islands. LeGon grew up with her older sister Mary Belle in Chicago's overcrowded Black Belt. Practicing and performing with other children, LeGon received her first formal training from Mary Bruce's School of Dance. She often skipped school to learn new dance routines from the movies, and she graduated from Sexton Elementary School in 1928. In 1930, at age thirteen, she successfully auditioned for the Count Basie Orchestra's chorus line. Leaving Englewood High School a year later, LeGon was already a cutting edge professional dancer with a repertoire of knee drops, flips, slides, mule kicks, and flying splits, which she performed wearing pants.

In 1931, LeGon became a member of the family oriented Whitman Sisters troupe, which traveled the South. With her half sister, Willa Mae Lane, she formed the LeGon and Lane tap duo in 1933. In 1935 Hollywood, Earl Dancer, the former manager of Ethel Waters, discovered LeGon. Dancer helped LeGon to be the first black woman to sign an extended contract from MGM, though it was shortly cancelled. In her first screen role, LeGon danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (the only black woman to do so on screen) in Hooray for Love, which also featured Fats Waller. Her twenty-four film credits include: Broadway Melody of 1936, This Was Paris, (1937), Start Cheering, Fools for Scandal (1938), I Can't Give You Anything But Love (1940), Birth of the Blues, Sundown, Arabian Nights (1941), While Thousands Cheered, Stormy Weather (1943), Hi De Ho (1945), Easter Parade (1948), I Shot Jesse James (1949) and Somebody Loves Me (1952). LeGon married composer Phil Moore in 1943 and they co wrote "The Sping" which Lena Horne sang in Panama Hattie. She also starred in Fats Waller's Broadway musical, Early to Bed and took African dance lessons from Katherine Dunham that same year. In 1953, LeGon appeared with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte as a teacher in Bright Road. Her next U. S. film role would not come until Snoop Dogg's 2001 film, Bones. In the 1950's LeGon founded a school of dance and appeared in television's Amos and Andy. By the 60's she toured with Jazz Caribe. In 1969, LeGon settled in Vancouver, British Columbia teaching tap, point and Dunham technique. In the 1970s, LeGon worked with Troupe One, a youth theatre group and traveled to London with the Pelican Players in the 80s.

The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and the National Congress of Black Women have honored LeGon. In 2002, Oklahoma City University conferred upon her a doctorate of performing arts in American Dance. In 1999, the National Film Board of Canada released Grant Greshuk's prize-winning documentary, Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way. Now in demand, she travels to personal appearances with her husband, Frank.

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