Shakespeare in the slums.

Happy birthday Danitra Vance. If you don’t recognize her name that’s not surprising, but also sad. She was the first African American cast member on Saturday Night Live, as well as the show’s first lesbian (although this wasn’t made public at the time). Her tenure on the show, and her life, were too brief. Born July 13th, 1954, we lost her to breast cancer a little after her fortieth birthday in 1994.

She did a few sketches on SNL, including some recurring characters, but it’s Shakespeare In The Slums that I remember. It was hilarious, but so tight I was afraid if I laughed I’d miss something.

6 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I remember her. Thanks for the birthday tribute and the sweet sorrow.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      She really was unforgettable. From the book Laughing in the Dark by Laurie Stone I learned about Vance’s stage work–she enjoyed greater success in the theater than she did on SNL, as well as her untimely death.

      Reply
  2. kdcol

    I must not have watched SNL during that timeframe. Looks like I really missed out. Sad that she died.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It wasn’t a great time in SNL’s history, and she didn’t appear that often. This particular bit is, I think, her first appearance, and was something she wrote herself. That says a lot about how talented she was and how much she could have brought to the show.

      Reply
  3. Gina W.

    Wow, a parody of Shakespeare seems ambitious nowadays and not something you’d likely see on SNL. I vaguely remember this actress but didn’t know anything about her or what happened to her. So sad that her life ended so young.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      A parody of Shakespeare hardly seems like something you’d see on SNL even then. The other thing I remember her doing was “That Black Girl!”, which was a spot-on parody of “That Girl!” Then Francis Ford Coppola came in and insisted that the whole thing be re-done as a gritty realistic urban drama. It was really some highbrow stuff for SNL.

      Reply

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