Forgotten Black Burlesque Queen Ruby Richards True Burlesque
Today, brought back to life from black and tan burlesque heaven is Ruby Richards. AKA "The Black Pearl" and once called "Sloe-eyed Ruby" by a smut magazine. What? I had to look it up. It means having eyes shaped like almonds. Well, I'm glad that racial slur is gone. She also performed under the name "Curlytop" which which might also be a bit arcane, but they might be referring to her hat, not her hair. See Below. Jet Magazine March 5, 1953.
Ruby was called one other thing…"The sexiest gal on Broadway in years" so why don't we know about her? Let's blame Jim Crow. Ruby performed under Jim Crow like several generations of astounding talent so we missed it.
The Black Pearl name came from her appearance as just that in a giant oyster shell she emerged from in a stage act at the Paris Folies Bergere. Researching Ruby's story, I have seen a few pictures online, but not many…par for the whole course with a woman of color from the golden days. We can triple the search results here! When one of you creates a Wikipedia page for the performer, cite my article. Wiki thinks what we do here is spam. However, because the "legitimate" sources were as racist as the rest of the country, we have a problem here. Unless Wiki starts to realize there is history which wasn't reported by the "papers of record" we'll be reliving ignorance all over again, this time on their often wrong encyclopedia.
What CAN be learned, thankfully, comes often from Jet Magazine, lifeblood and bible for the African-American nation within a nation. Thank God for Jet. Ruby was singing and dancing for years but you won't read much about her except in the race magazines of the 1950s. Jet, Hue...and probably ephemeral smut magazines like the pictures I found here.
The photos above ran in a magazine alongside an article with "Those Nude Pics of Sheree North" who is the woman who played Kramer's mom on Seinfield decades later. I see Wiki has missed that too...and she was on the COVER. My point is made. There is history in flea markets, and Wiki is missing it.
Ruby was signed to the Latin Quarter by BARBARA WALTER'S FATHER Lou Walters. Good for him, and we can congratulate Barbara for her long career in journalism. Did you know Barbara's dad was a showbiz maven with an eye for female talent and once ran entertainment at the Tropicana Casino in Vegas?
Ruby was born in the West Indies and moved to France apparently around 1950. Before the Latin Quarter gig, she was a Cotton Club dancer and singer. She was no dummy. She saved her earnings and invested in Harlem real estate. She studied Voice at the French Conservatory of Music. I don't believe anyone has yet made the web connection with Ruby Richards and Ruby dancing…here with Louis Jordan. Enjoy!
In the middle of her career, Ruby is reported to have changed her name to ZI ZI RICHARDE for some reason. I have no idea why…but it could have been to escape her lovely vocal here with Hot Lips Page's I Bongo You! Hot Lips would "bongo" her. She would "bongo" back!
Jim Linderman is the author of True Burlesque the Blog. Some of his books and affordable ebooks are available HERE