Black History Month Pathfinder Profile: Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was an American film and theatre actress, singer, and dancer. She is one of the first black actresses to have a successful Hollywood career and the first to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Born November 9, 1922, Dandridge got her start performing as part of the singing group The Dandridge Sisters in the 1930s. Due to her early experiences performing on the church circuit and later at the Cotton Club, Dorothy was keenly aware of how race played a role in shaping her experiences. When she performed at the Cotton Club she was instructed not to engage with white patrons.

While she appeared in other “race movies” and small films, it was her breakout performance in Carmen Jones that catapulted her to success in Hollywood. The critically acclaimed film earned Dandridge an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1954. When she did not win many felt she was snubbed.

Dandridge was politically aware and outspoken. She turned down roles she felt were beneath her like playing a slave in the 1956 release of The King and I. This lead her to develop a reputation for being difficult to work with. Coupled with racial tensions and a lack of movie roles for African-Americans Dandridge received few job offers compared to her white counterparts.

Dandridge appeared in other notable classic films including Island in the Sun (1957) co-starring Harry Belafonte, The Decks Ran Red (1958), Tamango (1959), Moment of Danger (1960) and Porgy and Bess (1959), starring opposite Sidney Poitier.

In 2000, Halle Berry won Golden Globe and Emmy awards for her portrayal of the groundbreaking actress in the acclaimed TV movie, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.

The Ellison for Congress team salutes Dorothy Dandridge for forging a path for women in entertainment.

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