ON THIS DATE in 1923, nineteen-year-old Elisabeth Welch launched a dance craze by singing “Charleston” in a Broadway show called Runnin’ Wild.
“Because I had a loud voice I was chosen to sing Charleston,” she told the Associated Press, “but when the chorus girls came on they quickly yanked me off the stage because I couldn’t dance.”
An energetic and popular dance in the 1920s, the Charleston involved turning the knees inward and kicking out the lower legs.
In 1931 Welch sang the controversial “Love for Sale,” a song about prostitution, in Cole Porter’s New Yorkers. She later broke new ground for black actors by starring in Song of Freedom (1936) and Big Fella (1937).
In 1986, Welch was nominated for a Tony for her role in ”Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood” and won an Obie for her one-woman show, ”Time to Start Living.”