“Grande Dame” of Creole Culture, Jenny Alpha, Dies at 100

Le Monde reports that Martinican actress and singer Jenny Alpha (1910-2010), a leading exponent of Creole culture, died Wednesday, September 8, at the age of 100.

The announcement of her death has prompted many reactions in France and overseas. Overseas Minister Marie-Luce Penchard praised the “exceptional and talented woman” that Jenny Alpha has been; ministerial delegate Patrick Karam recalled the “talent and elegance of one of the greatest overseas artists of the 20th century.” Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, traveling to the Caribbean, paid tribute to “a pioneer of the arts” who “made her life a struggle for black women to have their full rights.” Jean-François Lamour and Philippe Goujon, deputies from the 15th arrondissement, where the actress lived, expressed that she “embodied with panache the richness of French cultural life of the 20th century, at the crossroads of multiple influences.” And President of the General Council of Martinique Claude Lise praised “the exceptional trajectory of an artist of outstanding standards” with a “talent that overcame all difficulties and all prejudices.”

Born in Martinique in April 1910, Alpha Jenny moved to Paris in 1929 where she thought of becoming a teacher [also see Martinican Actress Jenny Alpha featured in Documentary Film Festival]. Instead, she became an actress and singer, and crossed paths with the great names of jazz and vaudeville, such as Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker. Her stage career was launched by the 1939 Cabaret La Canne a Sucre [Sugar Cane]. She also founded her own band, which toured widely from 1950 to 1966. After playing roles as a prostitute or savage, her portrayal of Neige in Les Griots [The African Storytellers], a 1958 production of Genet’s Les Nègres [The Blacks], earned her recognition and entry to an emerging theater offering significant roles to black actors.

Jenny Alpha dedicated her life to theater and music, and was still acting and singing at the end of her life. At 94 years old, she had a role in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” lead by Haitien director Jean-Pierre Lemoine, and in 2008, at 98, she released her new CD, “La sérénade du muguet.” In a tribute to Alpha, French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand said that “as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sedar Senghor had become advocates of negritude, she devoted all her energy and talent to the defense and recognition of Creole culture.”

For full article (in French), see http://www.lemonde.fr/depeches/2010/09/08/mort-de-jenny-alpha-grande-dame-de-la-culture-creole_3246_88_43342574.html

For biography and tribute (in French), see http://www.gensdelacaraibe.org/index.php

For a tribute for her 100th birthday (and video clip), see http://www.mondomix.com/actualite/719/jenny-alpha-100-ans-et-doyenne-des-artistes-francais.htm

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