Though Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page are often cited as the classic pin-up, there were many black women who were also considered to be impactful. In the 1920s two of the most notable Black burlesque dancers were Josephine Baker and Lottie Graves. Despite the little history on Black burlesque dancers, Baker and Graves are a good starting point for evaluating black women in pin-up. Dorothy Dandridge and Eartha Kitt also added to the pin-up style of their time, using their looks, fame, and personal success. African-American pin-up finally had a platform when the magazine, Jet, was created in 1951. Jet supported pin-up as they had a full page feature called, “Beauty of the Week”, where African-American women posed in a swimsuits and such. This was intended to showcase the beauty these women possessed as they lived in a world where their skin color was under constant scrutiny. It was not until 1965 that Jennifer Jackson became the first African American to be published in Playboy as Playmate of the Month. And it was not until 1990 that Playboy‘s Playmate of the Year was an African-American woman, Renee Tenison. Historically, black women in pin-up are still not as common as their white counterparts. However, the recent revival of pin-up style has propelled many black women today to create and dabble with the classic pin-up look to create their own standards of beauty. In Jim Linderman’s self-published book, Secret History of the Black Pin Up, he describes the lives and experiences of African-American pin-up models.
Dorothy Jean Dandridge was an American film and theatre actress, singer, and dancer. She is one of the first black actresses to have a successful Hollywood career and the first to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones.
Eartha Kitt was an American singer, actress, dancer, comedian, activist, author, and songwriter known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 recordings of “C’est si bon” and the Christmas novelty song “Santa Baby”, both of which reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Josephine Baker was an American-born French entertainer, French Resistance agent, and civil rights activist. Her career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adopted France
Lottie “The Body” Tatum-Graves-Claiborne was an American burlesque dancer. She was known as the “Black Gypsy Rose Lee.” Lottie worked in San Francisco, where she met and married Goose Tatum of the Harlem Globetrotters. Later, she moved to Detroit and continued to work as an exotic dancer, enjoying a lengthy career.