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Mills, Florence (1895 or 1896–1927) By Cubbon, Alexandra

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-REM2139-1
Published: 1/3/2024
Retrieved: 19 June 2024, from


Florence Mills was a leading African American performer of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1890s, Mills was raised in Harlem, New York City, and began performing as a child. During her career as a singer, dancer, and comedian, she performed vaudeville, burlesque, and eventually crossed over into mainstream Broadway, garnering international fame along the way. Mills fought for racial equality throughout her lifetime, using her voice both on and off stage to speak out against racism.

Among the productions Mills starred in, some of the most notable and historic were Folly Town (1920), Shuffle Along (1921), and The Black Birds Revue (1926). Folly Town was among the first racially integrated shows in New York, while Shuffle Along proved that musicals produced by African Americans could appeal to interracial audiences. Mills was also a celebrated singer, whose song ‘I’m a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird’ called for racial justice. Although she died an untimely death in 1927 at the age of 31, Mills’ years of work on the stage challenged contemporary norms around race, class, and gender and contributed to the modernization of theatrical performance.

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Cubbon, Alexandra. Mills, Florence (1895 or 1896–1927). Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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