Juanita Hall (November 6, 1901 – February 28, 1968) was an African – American musical theatre and film actress. She is remembered for her roles in the original stage and screen versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals South Pacific as Bloody Mary – a role that garnered her the Tony Award – and Flower Drum Song as Auntie Liang.
Juanita was born in Keyport, N.J., educated in the public school system there, and developed her voice while singing in the local Catholic church choir. Hall attended Juilliard School of Music in New York City. When she was still a teenager she married Clement Hall, who died in 1920.
Her first successful performance was as Julie in “Show Boat” in 1928. Hall appeared in “Green Pastures” in 1930 with the Hall Johnson Choir and eventually became the assistant choir director.
Hall extended her director abilities to included the Works Progress Administration Chorus from 1935 to 1944, the Westchester Chorale and Dramatics Association from 1941 to 1942, and to her own choir, The Juanita Hall Choir, in 1942. Hall’s voice could be heard on radio too, with Rudy Vallee and Kate Smith. She sang on Broadway from 1943 to 1947 in “The Pirate” “Sing Out, Sweet Land,” “Saint Louis Woman,” “Deep Are the Roots,” and “Street Scene.” Hall sang on the nightclub circuit and was discovered by Richard Rogers, who cast her in the role of Bloody Mary in the play, “South Pacific,” in 1949, where she won the Donaldson Award for her supporting role. Hall played all of her characters most convincingly.
She performed in her one-woman show, “A Woman and the Blues,” and was cast as the Chinese Madam Liang in “Flower Drum Song.” That same year, she recorded Juanita Sings The Blues, on which she was accompanied by an all-star jazz group led by pianist Claude Hopkins and which included trumpeter Doc Cheatham and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. In 1961, she went to Hollywood for the screen version of Flower Drum Song. After this film appearance, Hall then retired from public performance.
Affected by diabetes with failing eyesight and health, Hall performed in A Woman and the Blues, featuring her nightclub and Broadway acts in 1966. Her condition led the Actors Fund of America to stage a benefit performance on her behalf in 1967. A year later, on February 28, 1968 Juanita Hall died in Bay Shore, Long Island.
– This post was written by Greg Mickens for #Black History Mini Docs Music