An African-American tap dancing legend and longtime Vancouver resident has died.
Jeni LeGon died Friday at age 96, says Vancouver journalist James Oakes, who is a neighbour of the woman’s partner, Frank Clavin.
The American Tap Dance Foundation says LeGon was one of the first African-American women to develop a career as a tap soloist — and she wore pants when all the other female dancers were sporting skirts.
LeGon was born in Chicago and landed her first job in musical theatre at age 13, the start of a career that brought her to Los Angeles, London and New York.
She played several leading roles in films, toured with the U.S. Army and performed in clubs and theatres internationally, performing with stars like dancer Bill Robinson and jazz pianist Fats Waller.
People magazine in 2005 described LeGon as a pioneer of Black Hollywood, who “battled frank racism, stereotype-constrained casting and on-set segregation to achieve memorable art and pave the way to put us where we are today.” She also told the magazine that Fred Astaire, with whom she had danced a decade before, snubbed her in 1947 after she was cast as a maid in Easter Parade.
“He never spoke to me, never acknowledged me,” LeGon told the magazine.
“He knew I was the same person, I’m sure of that. I was really hurt. It’s inside and I can’t get rid of it. Hollywood was a black-and-white world.”