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Black Diva of the Thirties: The Life of Ruby Elzy
by David E. Weaver
University Press of Mississippi, 2004
Hardcover, $26.00 (210 pages)
ISBN: 1-57806-651-4
 
 

"There is no color to talent." -- Ruby Elzy

She was one of the first inductees to the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame. The role of Serena in the original production of Porgy and Bess was created by her. She starred as Dolly in the feature film The Emperor Jones. She was part of the Harlem Renaissance and sang on stage of the Apollo Theatre. She did more in her thirty-five years than many performers do in a lifetime. Yet, you may not know her name -- Ruby Elzy.

Abandoned by her father at age five, Ruby Elzy was raised by strong women -- her mother and grandmother. Ruby's first public performance was at age four when she sang at church in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Even then her voice was beautiful and strong. Already with a dream to sing on stage, Ruby Elzy moved steadily toward that goal. While at Rust College in Mississippi, Ruby was discovered by a visiting professor who arranged for her to study music at Ohio State University. The OSU experience was strong in preparing Ruby to meet the world on stage and to hone her skills of people management.

Ruby Elzy attended Julliard School in New York City on a Rosenwald Fellowship. There, she was able to meet the top black performers of that day as the Harlem Renaissance was opening doors for black artists. Without going to Europe for easy acceptance, Ruby remained in America winning audiences on radio, in Hollywood and on stage.

She performed the role of Serena in Porgy and Bess more than 800 times. Serena's aria "My Man's Gone Now" became Ruby Elzy's signature song. Her last performance was a week before her death, when she had plans to sing grand opera in the lead role of Verdi's Aida.  Ruby Elzy died during a routine operation to remove a benign tumor.

As outstanding as her career history was and is, the person who Ruby Elzy was is probably more remarkable and outstanding. Her voice opened doors for her, but it was her personality that won over a society that was closed to black artists for the most part. Ruby Elzy used her southern charm, talent, and work ethic to change contemporary attitudes with a smile. At the time of her death she was becoming more active in social change and would have been an powerful beacon in the Civil Rights Movement.

Black Diva of the Thirties: The Life of Ruby Elzy captures this outstanding woman through anecdotes of those who knew her and the talent of David Weaver to take these interviews and his research to give us a extraordinary southern woman.

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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