Must-see pieces in the Academy Museum’s Black Cinema exhibition

Don’t miss the Academy Museum’s Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971. The exhibition not only celebrates the representation of Black people in film, it also serves as an important reminder and lesson on the contributions of Black filmmakers and stars to the world of cinema.

Opening August 21, seven galleries make up the exhibition, which explores Oscar Micheaux’s low-budget dramas in the silent era through to the works of Melvin Van Peebles.

The exhibition also introduces audiences to stars largely unknown to mainstream moviegoers – Ralph Cooper, Clarence Brooks and Francine Everett – as well as legendary screen legends Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Lena Horne.

Poiter’s Oscar for Lillies of the Field is just one of the many artifacts on display at this historic exhibit. Shown alongside the award are tap shoes worn by the Nicholas Brothers and one of Louis Armstrong’s trumpets.

Cowboy boots worn by Herb Jeffries in 1937’s ‘Harlem on the Prairie’

cowboy boots

Before appearing in westerns like The Bronze Buckaroo and Harlem Rides the Range, Herb Jeffries made his acting debut in 1937 in Harlem on the Prairie.

Jeffries played Jeff Kincaid and was one of the first black actors to sing Western music on screen. Billed as “Black America’s First Singing Cowboy in the Movies,” Jeffries could sing, act, and ride horses. “Harlem on the Prairie” was filmed at the NB Murray Dude Ranch, a black owned ranch in Victorville, California.

“Regeneration” features a pair of leather boots that Jeffries wore in the film.

Costume worn by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1959’s Porgy and Bess


Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Sportin’ Life” suit from “Porgy and Bess” is an original black and white patterned vintage outfit. The tailored jacket with peak lapels and black velvet top collar has matching button fly trousers.

Irene Sharaff was the film’s costume designer.

Tap shoes worn by the Nicholas Brothers


Below the sheet music for “Stormy Weather” are two pairs of tap shoes worn by Fayard and Harold Nicholas. While the Nicholas Brothers rarely received lead opportunities due to racial prejudice, the duo nevertheless achieved international fame for their talent, charisma and iconic performances, most notably their performance in Stormy Weather to the tune of Jumpin’ Jive.

The brothers, with their backgrounds as choreographers and dancers, didn’t even rehearse for the sequence, which is considered one of Hollywood’s most impressive dance numbers.

Costume design illustrations for “Carmen Jones” from 1954


Costume designer Mary Anne Nyberg created the costumes for Carmen Jones, the 1954 all-black musical starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Dushanbe Carroll and Brock Peters. The exhibition features two design illustrations from the film: the strapless black top and red pencil skirt ensemble worn by Dorothy Dandridge as Carmen Jones, and the pink plaid dress worn by Olga James as Cindy Lou.

Dandridge received an Oscar nomination for her role in Carmen Jones, making her the first African American woman to be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Zoot suits worn by dancers in 1943’s “Stormy Weather”.


Alongside the Nicholas Brothers’ tap shoes on display are three zoot suits worn by dancers in 1943’s ‘Stormy Weather’. Cab Calloway wore the infamous oversized Zoot suit in the film, which was released the same year the Zoot Suit Riots took place. According to the exhibit, the striped zoot suit costumes were worn by Doris Ake, Nadine Coles, Cleo Herndon, E. Williams, Reeves and an unidentified dancer.

Helen Rose was the film’s costume designer.

Paul Robeson’s version of “Ol’ Man River” from the 1927 musical “Show Boat.”

A rendition of Paul Robeson’s “Ol’ Man River” from the 1927 musical “Show Boat” plays in a gallery at the exhibition, with Robeson’s version alongside the original text. Robeson would occasionally change the lyrics of songs he performed in a musical or film to express his genuine lived reality. As a civil rights activist, Robeson often countered the racial stereotypes portrayed in the film.

In the original “Ol’ Man River” with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the song says: “Git a little trunk / An’ you land in jail / Ah gits tired / An’ sick of tryin’ / Ich tired of living / A fear of dying.” Robeson, who sang “Ol’ Man River” in the 1936 film adaptation, changed that part of the song in his own rendition: “You show a little courage and / You end up in the Prison / But I keep laughing instead of crying / I must keep fighting / Until I die.”

‘Stormy Weather’ sheet music


Along with Lena Horne’s sequined evening dress is the sheet music for Stormy Weather. The 1943 musical has been restored for the Academy Museum and will be shown on September 3rd.

The song was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler in 1933 and is performed by Horne’s character Selina Rogers towards the end of the film.

Engraved Selmer Bb Trumpet by Louis Armstrong


Jazz exceptional Louis Armstrong had a career that spanned five decades. Over the years he has become famous for his trumpet playing as well as his voice.

The trumpet on display dates from the 1930s. Armstrong was known to play his trumpets for up to five years before passing them on.

On display is a custom-made and labeled Bb trumpet by Henri Selmer that belonged to Armstrong. Must-see pieces in the Academy Museum’s Black Cinema exhibition

Charles Jones

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