102 y/o Dancer Sees Herself on Film for the First Time
Apr 20, 2015
UPDATE: Alice passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016. She spent the last day of her life in good spirits, enjoying listening to music and having her mail read to her. Thank you to all the thousands of fans who sent in cards, flowers, and art. You truly gave her deep joy and meaning in the last years of her life!
Alice Barker was a chorus line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the the 1930s and 40s. She danced at clubs such as The Apollo, Cotton Club, The Zanzibar Club, and on Broadway—with legends including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Although she danced in numerous movies, commercials and TV shows, she had never seen any of them, and all of her photographs and memorabilia had been lost over the years.
After years of searching we found three “Soundies” Alice appeared in and were finally able to show them to her — she had never seen herself in motion in her life!
You can learn more about Alice at the little website we’ve set up for her: www.alicebarkernotbaker.com/
All of Alice’s films from this video are collected here: youtu.be/rpg5D0AAA2w
For more info about the dancers of the Harlem Renaissance, we recommend the lovely documentary “Been Rich All My Life” —several of the women in the film danced with Alice back in the day!
A little more about the who’s who here: “We” are friends of Alice who searched for the films and made this video. I’m David Shuff, a volunteer who visits the home with my therapy dog Katie, and have known Alice for 8 years. The woman in the video is Gail Campbell, a recreation therapist (and an amazing one at that!). She never gave up on finding Alice’s films, and uncovered the first piece of the puzzle that lead to us finding them — which was Alicia Thompson; a historian of black female performers who had been looking for Alice for years (her site is forclassicmovieloversonly.trip… and her YouTube channel is “MusicandDancing4Ever”). She told us that Alice was in films called ‘soundies’.
Using that clue I found jazz historian Mark Cantor of jazz-on-film.com and he was able to send us three of Alice’s soundies from his collection. Shortly afterwards Alicia got us a few more films.
This video was filmed on cellphones (and almost as an afterthought!) by my friends Darin Tatum and Tom Hunt.
This is so beautiful…