Florence Mills

The heroine of Goldenbird is the cheerful little jazz dancer Mayann Sparks. Like Josephine Baker, she was born in St Louis, Missouri, and naturally she has a lot in common with la Baker... especially her childhood. However, she is as much inspired by the trailblazers of la Venus Noire, who are less well known today. Florence Mills, "the Queen of Happiness", is one of them. Sadly, she died very young, but during her short life she became a star in America and Europe, and incomparably beloved in Harlem. There are no recordings of her voice, only contemporary descriptions: "like a hummingbird", "full of bubbling, bell-like, bird-like tones", "a tempestuous blend of passion and humour", "strange high noises", "an enraptured bird" ...

An American critic wrote: In her small throat she hides all manner of funny little sounds that flutter out like sparrows from an inexhaustible nest.
I imagine Mayann with a voice like that, which cannot be heard (she is a drawing, after all!) but that has a bizarre, magical effect on people.
Florence Mills was also a great dancer, and it has been said that the reason behind her reluctance to make recordings was that she preferred to interact with a live audience. In an age before modern sound production, before there even were microphones on stage, the studio environment must have felt uninspiring.

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