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Evelyn Preer, Leading African-American Actress During the Silent Era

Written by Jae Jones

was one of the leading stage and screen actresses during the silent era. She kept the presence of African-Americans on screen alive. Not only was she a phenomenal actress but she was one of the best Blues singers. She was known throughout the community as “The First Lady of the Screen.” It was extremely rare during her time to see an African-American in movies, and she was the first Black to earn the status as a big time celebrity. She appeared in many ground-breaking films, and the first New York-style production with a black cast in California in 1928, in a revival of a play adapted from “Somerset Maugham’s Rain.”

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Preer was born Evelyn Jarvis in Vicksburg, Mississippi. After the untimely death of her father, she moved with her mother to Chicago. She first appeared in vaudeville and minstrel shows and began performing under the name Evelyn Preer. She landed her first big break when she was hired for an Oscar Micheaux’s film “The Homesteader.” She was promoted as the leading actress and became and Micheaux was so impressed by her acting skills she was hired for more films, because of that Preer’s popularity began to grow quickly. Some films Preer appeared in of Micheaux’s included:  The Brute (1920), The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921), Deceit (1923), Birthright (1924), and many others.

During the 1920s, Preer’s popularity began to grow among the White press. She began to appear in “crossover” films and stage parts. 1927, she appeared in the musical comedy Rang Tang and recorded with Duke Ellington. The early 1930s saw her performing with Ethel Waters. She had her talkie debut in film in the 1930 race musical, Georgia Rose. In 1931 she performed onscreen opposite Sylvia Sidney in the film Ladies of the Big House. Preer met and married Edward Thompson while acting with the Lafayette Players in Chicago. Many White producers wanted to hire the couple, however only if they painted their faces in Black paint. Preer gave birth to a daughter in April of 1932, and sadly developed complications. Preer died of double pneumonia in the same year in November.

 

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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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