Arts Project Events Buy Tickets Press & Media Archives About us Contact.html

"When I discovered Florence Mills as the subject of Duke Ellington’s magnificent tribute, “Black Beauty,” I recognized a figure of major significance, who had somehow slipped through a crack in the historic record.  The lack of any filmic or audio traces no doubt help explain her almost total eclipse.  It was a cold trail in the early 1990s as I began to trace her story, but I soon discovered there was a small coterie of people for whom her memory was alive and treasured.  One of these was her fellow African American performer Jonelle Allen, whose devotion to Florence Mills long pre-dated mine.

I have tried through my book and web site to restore Florence to her rightful place in the history of African American, and world, entertainment, as well as in the struggle for equal rights.  However, the matter readers have most questioned me on is the inadequacy of explanation for why Florence never made records.  I have since come to believe that, though technical matters were a factor, the real explanation is that her forte was interacting with a live audience.  After her first negative experience I think she resisted the sterile environment of the recording studio.  I therefore believe the true spirit of Florence Mills is best captured in the live performance of a devoted successor like Jonelle Allen, and perhaps in Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty,” rather than through any words on a page."

Bill Egan
Author: "Florence Mills Harlem Jazz Queen"

Jonelle Allen
as Legendary Jazz Singer
Florence Mills

Steve Josephson
as Lew Leslie

Written by
Steve Josephson and Jonelle Allen

Produced & Directed by
Steve Josephson

Choreography by
Ellen Prince

Musical Direction by
Ron Abel


Reviews From The Fringe

Watching Jonelle Allen in Harlem Renaissance, you can't help thinking you're in the presence of Broadway Royalty. She debuted in Manhattan at the age of six, and has been performing ever since. Us Brits who don't get to the Times Square as often as we'd like will probably recognise Allen from the TV series Dr Quinn, in which she played Grace for many years.

Harlem Renaissance is the story of Florence Mills, largely forgotten today because recording equipment in the early twentieth century couldn't capture her remarkable voice, but hailed as the first African American star of Broadway. After her death in 1927 from tuberculosis, Duke Ellington memorialised Mills in his song Black Beauty.

The story is narrated by Steve Josephson, who also directs and wrote the script. It's punctuated by songs from Florence Mills' life such as I'm A Little Blackbird Looking For A Bluebird, which Mills is probably best know for.

Singing Some of These Days and looking straight into my eyes, Allen could have been looking directly into my soul.
I felt honoured to be in such an intimate space with a lady of such pedigree... and I'm glad to have seen Jonelle Allen perform in Edinburgh.

-Pete Shaw, Broadway Baby (08.24.07)

A slick and well-delivered tour of the life of the forgotten jazz singer Florence Mills. The story is told through great music... I was entertained and my interest was raised... Jonelle Allen shines as "the little blackbird"...buckets of energy, humor and sass. She delivers her final number with such emotion that it hits you right in the gut - we may not get to know Mills well, but we feel a loss when she dies. Think of this as a taster - something to pique your interest - and you won't be disappointed; a glimpse of a world and a talent long gone and very missed.

-Three Weeks, Edinburgh (08.04.07)


-Mervyn Stutter's "Pick of the Fringe", GIlded Balloon, Edinburgh (08.13.07)

Written and performed by Jonelle Allen and Steve Josephson, the life story of Florence Mills, once described as the ‘Harlem Jazz Queen’ and affectionately known as the ‘the little blackbird’, is a gem of musical theatre.  Set mainly in the 1920’s at a time when there was a huge flowering of African-American culture, this production traces her rise to fame from a humble background.

With Steve Josephson providing the narration in words and song, Jonelle Allen through song and dance
most effectively conveys the huge talent that Florence Mills possessed.  Why is her name not better known and her memory cherished?  The lack of recordings and film material largely explains her disappearance from public knowledge.

success of the show depends on Jonelle Allen’s singing performance and there is no doubting her singing qualities.  Highlights include ‘Some of these Days’ and ‘I’m just wild about Harry’. Her final song ‘The little blackbird’ is the most moving tribute to an artist who died at the age of 31 at the height of her career.

This is a show that has been lovingly created and is both
entertaining and informative.

-Ben Douglas, (08.03.07)

C Central - Cabaret Bar, Venue 54, North Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1SD
1 August 2007 - 27 August 2007 - 18:10
£6.50 - £9.50
C Central - Cabaret Bar
Venue 54
North Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1SD

011 44 845 260 1234 Box Ofice
Buy Now
C Central - Cabaret Bar  Edinburgh, EH1 1SD
Order tickets Online or call 011 44 845 260 1234

Cabaret and comedy, bands and burlesque converge where the
Royal Mile meets the Bridges. Drumming, dancing, bubbles,
magic, carousels. Drink and dance until dawn with The Establishment.
C venues vibrant vivacious variety. It's a Festival all of its own.
Make sure you see it all.


Jonelle Allen (Florence Mills / Author)

Ms. Allen, who spent six years as Grace, the entrepreneurial post-Civil War frontier café owner in CBS-TV’s Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, was four years old when she was cast in the revival Wisteria Trees starring Helen Hayes, Ossie Davis, Cliff Robertson and others at the New York City Center Theatre. In the course of the play’s run, Ms. Hayes took Ms. Allen’s Aunt Bea aside and advised her, “Keep this child in the theatre, she has a natural gift.” It wasn’t until some twenty years later at Sardi’s that Jonelle again saw Helen Hayes in person. Ms. Allen was in the spotlight at the famed theatrical hangout awaiting the first reviews following her opening night of the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which she starred and which Ms. Hayes had attended. Rushing up to a great actress and assuming that she would not recognize her, Ms. Allen recounted the circumstances and what Ms. Hayes had said to her Aunt Bea years earlier. Ms. Hayes smiling simply said, “See. I was right.” Ms. Allen received a Tony nomination as "Best Actress in a Musical" and won the Drama Critics, Drama Desk, Theater World, and Outer Circle Awards for her performance as "Silvia" in the New York Shakespeare Festival production. Other Broadway credits include the original casts of Hair and George M!, starring Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters. Ms. Allen has appeared in numerous feature films and television productions including Hotel New Hampshire, Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues, Generations, Twice In A Lifetime for PAX-TV and Strong Medicine for Lifetime Network. Ms. Allen won a Dramalogue Award for her performance of "Aldonza" in Man of La Mancha prior to embarking on the phenomenal run on Dr. Quinn.