|Hooray for Love (1935) Jeni LeGon with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Fats Waller. Jeni begins to dance at 2:56 minutes.
“You could work, but I’m saying a lot of the time you didn’t work all the best places because you were black. And if you did, you were sent up the back stairs. [In the movie Double Deal] I danced in a skirt but did toe stands and stuff. I wore short dresses, short skirts, you know, leotards, whatever the heck they wear … They wanted me to show my legs. When I danced by myself, I danced in pants.”
Born in 1916, Jeni LeGon began tapping when she was a child in Chicago. She danced and toured with the Whitman Sisters troupe, and her first professional act was with the Count Basie Chorus in a lineup of 16 women. She set her sights on Hollywood. There she landed a role with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Hurray for Love, followed by over a dozen other films.
But with all her talent, Jeni LeGon could not break through the color barrier of a segregated Hollywood. Like many black performers, LeGon left the United States, where job opportunities were few. In 1960s, she settled in Vancouver. In 1999, the National Film Board of Canada released Grant Greshuk’s prize-winning documentary, Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way.