Evelyn Preer ~ The First Black Star

Evelyn Preer

Evelyn Preer was Hollywood's first successful black leading lady.

She was born Evelyn Jarvis on July 26, 1896 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Following her father's death her mother moved their family to Chicago, Illinois. During her childhood she preached on the street with her mother to raise money for her Pentecostal church. At the age of eighteen she married Frank Preer, a wealthy club owner who was ten years older than her. Evelyn began her professional career singing in vaudeville. Then she joined The Lafayette Players,  a Chicago theatrical troupe. In 1919 she made her film debut in The Homesteader directed by Oscar Micheaux. She had leading roles in numerous films including Within Our Gates, The Brute, and Birthright. Evelyn became a popular star in the black community where she was nicknamed "The First Lady of the Screen.". The talented actress often turned down parts she believed were demeaning to her race.

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She divorced her husband and married actor Edward Thompson in February of 1924. By this time she was getting attention from the white press. Producer David Belasco cast her in his 1926 Broadway show Lulu Belle. Evelyn also recorded songs with the Duke Ellington orchestra. She costarred with her husband Edward in several shorts produced by Al Christie. In 1932 she had a small role in the drama Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich. It would be her final film. Her daughter Edeve was born in April of 1932 but she suffered from severe post-delivery complications. Tragically she died from double pneumonia on November 17, 1932. Evelyn was only thirty-six years old. Thousands of her friends and fans attended her funeral in Los Angeles. She was cremated and her ashes were given to her family.

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