Mrs. Miles Davis: Part I

From l, Frances Davis, Stephen Papich (Katherine Dunham’s producer), and Vanoye Aikens (Katherine Dunham’s last dancing partner). Stephen is holding an original costume sketch by John Pratt (Miss Dunham’s husband) from one of her famous ballets, all of which he designed the sets and costumes.

From l, Frances Davis, Stephen Papich (Katherine Dunham’s producer), and Vanoye Aikens (Katherine Dunham’s last dancing partner). Stephen is holding an original costume sketch by John Pratt (Miss Dunham’s husband) from one of her famous ballets, all of which he designed the sets and costumes.

Recently at one of our house parties, we were graced with the charm and beauty of one of America’s truly iconic femme fatales. We are speaking of everyone’s dearest friend, the Diva, Frances Davis, whose life will be portrayed in a much anticipated movie.

Born Frances Elizabeth Taylor to proud parents Ellen and Maceo Taylor in Chicago, she was raised to be the perfect Afro American princess, and if we must put a name to it, she is simply American royalty. She has graced the world of celebrity throughout her career, with her own personal inner strength, style, and tenacity.

Schooled at Chicago’s finest, she began ballet at age eight and by age ten she was already dancing en pointe. With diligence and desire to achieve as a prima ballerina, she moved rapidly at the Edna McRae School of Dance, where at sixteen she auditioned for Katherine Dunham and her entire dance company who were appearing in Chicago.

Winning a scholarship to the Katherine Dunham School of Dance in New York, she would have to wait another two years before she could attend. At eighteen the vivacious debutant began to realize her dream as she left the glamour of Michigan Avenue in Chicago for the exciting theatrical world of New York City, accompanied by her protective father, who made sure his prima ballerina princess remained unharmed and always the perfect young and sophisticated lady.

From that moment on, the rest of her life is pure history! Miss Dunham became mesmerized with the young talented enchantress, creating a special ballet for her based on Rima from the book Green Mansions. Later, Miss Dunham provided choreography for the movie, which starred Audrey Hepburn; however neither she nor her company appeared in the film.

Success seemed to be around every corner and every step. “The first” began to appear before her every move. A Dunham School teacher named Walter Nicks became her dance partner opening for the Benny Goodman Orchestra; billed as “Nicks and Taylor,” their opening number was “Sing Sing Sing.”

Arriving in Paris she joined the Paris Opera Ballet, another first, as the Paris Press quickly labeled her “the Leslie Caron of the tropics.”

Soon America beckoned her home where she appeared with Sammy Davis Jr. in Porgy and Bess, Mr. Wonderful, and Shinbone Alley. Frances Taylor was shooting to stardom.

Years earlier she was appearing with the Katherine Dunham Company at Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood and “The Genius of Jazz,” Mr. Miles Davis stepped into her life. Miles was smitten with Frances, as were her many other backstage suitors; however, he was just another hello, nice to meet you, and thank you for coming to the show. Not to dismiss him, but one must remember that Ciro’s was “the hot spot” and the roster of entertainers who appeared at “Ciro’s Le Disc,” as it was also called, reads like a who’s who; Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Xavier Cugat, Sammy Davis Jr., Katherine Dunham, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Merv Griffin, Herb Jeffries, Hildegarde, Abbe Lane, Gypsy Rose Lee, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Freddy Martin, Tony Martin and Cyd Charise, Johnnie Ray, Dinah Washington, Mae West, and on and on. So in the nightly audience of the club, one would find Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, George Raft, Hugh O’Brian, Rory Calhoun, Lana Turner, Peter Lawford, Jimmy Stewart, and even future Presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.

…to be continued next week…

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