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A popular singer of extraordinary versatility and longevity, Elisabeth Welch was a black American actress/singer whose 50-year career took her from the streets of New York to success in London.
Born in New York City, Welch trained for the stage and made her debut in the theatrical revue Blackbirds of 1928. She later appeared on stage in Paris and then returned to New York in a show called The New Yorkers, where her featured number was the Cole Porter song "Love for Sale," which she introduced to New York audiences. Welch made her London debut in 1933 with Dark Doings, and she followed this up later that same year in the Cole Porter show Nymph Errant. Welch was so well received and, in turn, so liberated by the reception she found in England, that she made it her home permanently, and enjoyed a three-tiered career on stage, radio, and in movies, appearing in seven feature films between 1934 and 1945. Most notable of the films were when she starred opposite Paul Robeson in a pair of movies, Song of Freedom (1936) and Big Fella (1937), and the chiller Dead of Night (1945). Her sweet, rich voice — sometimes described as a "loud alto" — was ideal for numbers such as "Solomon" or "Stormy Weather" (which she introduced to London audiences), making Welch a major attraction on radio and massively popular as an entertainer of the troops during World War II.
Welch's stage and recording career kept her busy during the 1940s, and she enjoyed a long career in nightclubs into the 1970s, a time when she returned to movies as well. Welch received a fresh burst of publicity in England as the featured singer on Ned Sherrin's television series devoted to the work of various pop music composers, which led to an EMI World Record Club LP reissue of her classic 1930s sides. In 1980 she performed in New York to stunning reviews and crowded club audiences, reaffirming her star status in her former hometown. She returned to New York often from then on and was nominated for a Tony award in 1986. A legend on both sides of the Atlantic, Elizabeth Welch died July 25, 2003 at the age of 99.