Monday, July 10, 2006

A Diva in the Family

No, I didn't get lost in the Silent Sea! I've just been enjoying the summer a bit. In fact, I had the good fortune of being in Little Italy in the Village yesterday - right in the middle of World Cup fever (Viva Italia!)

I have also been working on my book. I didn't want to say too much about the book before it's time, and I still don't, but I will tell you a little more about it because I can only hold so much in! The proposal is already out in the publishing world anyway (say a prayer!)

My book is called A Diva in the Family and it's about my aunt, Margaret Tynes. She had a phenomenal international career as a singer in opera, jazz and theater for over fifty years. A graduate of North Carolina A&T State University (BA 1939) and Columbia University (MA 1944), she starred as Harry Belafonte’s leading lady off-Broadway (see the picture below) in a show he produced called Sing Man, Sing! She also recorded a jazz suite called A Drum is a Woman with Duke Ellington and made several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1961, she gained international acclaim as Salomé at the Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds in Italy, where she lived for more than forty years.

Believe it or not, I heard about her for the first time at our family reunion in 1988 when I was a teenager. As a souvenir, we were provided with a booklet detailing our family history dating back to Timothy Tynes, a Virginia slaveholder who freed all of his slaves by name and left extensive property to them in 1802. Margaret was included in the booklet, along with details about some of our ancestors, many of whom were also artists: poets, painters and singers. Although I was very impressed with our history and Margaret, I was far more interested in Prince and Michael Jackson at the time and didn't think about the Tynes side of my family again for more than a decade.

This is the picture that started it all. I was researching my forthcoming novel at the Schomburg Center in Harlem (I'll tell you about that one much later) scouring through several photos of prominent black women in New York when I stumbled upon the "diva" in my family. My aunt is seated and the lady styling her hair is Rose Morgan. Although she is often best remembered for having once been married to the boxing legend Joe Louis, Ms. Morgan was a trailblazing entrepreneur that owned the Rose Meta House of Beauty in Harlem, one of the first full-service salons for black women in the country. Ms. Morgan also went on to help found the Freedom National Bank in 1965. After I stumbled upon this picture, I immediately raced outside and called our cousin on my cell phone for more information about her.

When I finally met her again at her friend’s home in Harlem during the Christmas holidays in 2002, I was very nervous. I had no idea what I would be walking into. Would she be an eccentric cartoon-like diva ala Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard? Or, God forbid, a prima donna cultivated in the old Negro bourgeoisie who might have turned her nose up at those who were not our kind of people? I wasn’t entirely sure how far our distant relation would carry me.

Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Today, at age 86, she's still gorgeous - and grand - but in the best way. She's proud of her career, but very modest about it at the same time.

Although this project has temporarily taken me away from my original plans, it really fits right in. All of my work, fiction and non-fiction, revolves around black entertainment history - it's my passion. So the opportunity to do A Diva in the Family was truly a gift to me.

And Aunt Margaret is so great! Talking and visiting with her is always an adventure and so much fun! She also likes to give me a lot of advice, which tends to begin and end with "Go with God Nichelle! Go with God!" It may seem like I've said a lot here, but trust me, it's only the tip of the iceberg.

I am working on getting a solid publisher in the next few months. Fortunately, I worked in publishing for many years, so I am quite hopeful about good things happening with the book in the very near future.

I'll keep you posted!

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Blogger Supa said...

WOW!!!! What a WONDERFUL legacy your aunt Margaret Tynes represents to you, your family, and US.

Absolutely speechless! I can only imagine the life changing/affirming information you received during your research!

Just wow.

So..martini on me, after your first book signing. :)

July 10, 2006 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Sangindiva said...


This is so wonderful!
I can't WAIT to have you sign a copy of my book(s)!
your aunt seems so regal and beautiful.

Congratulations Ms. Nichelle :)
I am praying for your success!

July 10, 2006 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Awww... thanks guys. For the martini offer, the prayers (oh wait, that didn't come out right! hahaha!)

She definitely represents a wonderful legacy for all of us. That's why writing this book is such a gift to me. I consider it a privilege.

And, I don't think it would hurt for people to see an actual diva for a change!

July 10, 2006 at 7:08 PM  
Blogger Rune said...

Is she rich, and more importantly, is she single?

July 11, 2006 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Nichelle said...


No, she's not rich. Yes, she's single - and not looking! :)

July 11, 2006 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Sangindiva said...

Um... Speaking of Divas...

Gurl WHY did I JUST now realize that you have a DOLL named "after" you!!

I was looking for a picture of a black barbie and WHY did I see the NICHELLE
doll lookin' like a modern day DEE-VAH! Ms. Lady- U ROCK!!!

July 12, 2006 at 5:22 AM  
Blogger Sangindiva said...

Um... Speaking of Divas...

Gurl WHY did I JUST now realize that you have a DOLL named "after" you!!

I was looking for a picture of a black barbie and WHY did I see the NICHELLE
doll lookin' like a modern day DEE-VAH! Ms. Lady- U ROCK!!!

July 12, 2006 at 5:23 AM  
Blogger The-Last-Word said...

I can't wait to read it. It sounds like it will be amazing.

July 12, 2006 at 6:07 AM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Ahmir - thanks a lot!

SanginDiva - Well, I wouldn't say the doll was named after me. Remember when I had the doll as my signature?

July 12, 2006 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Glib Gurl said...

That is fascinating! I, too, will be waiting for my signed copy!!!

July 14, 2006 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Thanks Glib!

July 15, 2006 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger Miss Ahmad said...

congrats on the book, what a gift, may the good things meet you where ever you go!

July 19, 2006 at 11:29 PM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Thanks Glam!

July 20, 2006 at 4:02 AM  
Blogger Elle* said...

WOW! that is absolutely phenomenal!

January 16, 2007 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger JF in DC said...

I heard Margaret Tynes sing Salome in Baltimore in 1966 or 1967. After this exhausting performance, Rosa Ponselle came out on stage and gave Ms. Tynes a big bear hug.

The hug was a little too much and the Ms. Tynes sunk to her knees, worn out by singing Salome and from Madame Ponselle's embrace.

December 24, 2007 at 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard Margaret Tynes in the 60s in Hungary as Aida & Salome at the Hungarian State Opera House and as Aida in Szeged. She sang beautiful and she WAS AIDA.

November 21, 2008 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I was lucky enough to find the Ellington/Strayhorn record "A Drum..." about 30 years ago. Your aunt's magnificent singing has filled my house on many occasions (at high volume I might add). I find it incredibly powerful and moving. Will post it on YouTube soon. Rich.

August 24, 2009 at 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Nichelle said...

Thank you Richard!

August 27, 2009 at 3:01 AM  
Anonymous susan said...

When she was in Szeged,singing Aida
I went to see here
She came to our house for diner one night
She is a wonderful lady
She autogrammed a record-it was coming out that time.
The record is in Hungary with my brother
I am waiting for your book

November 30, 2009 at 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Nichelle said...

Thank you Susan!

November 30, 2009 at 10:51 PM  
Blogger SerenityLife said...


You are really blessed to have such a rich history and to be writing this book in discovering more about your aunt and your family history.

God definitely opens doors of opportunity when you least expect it.

Sending prayers your way for you to complete your baby! xox

November 30, 2009 at 11:05 PM  

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