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Famed Tap Dancer Mable Lee Dies at 97

The Queen of the Soundies has passed on.

Mabel Lee on the March 1947 cover of EBONY (Credit: Johnson Publishing Company)

Mable Lee, the jazz dancer and singer, died at the age of 97 on Thursday.

A source close to EBONY and award-winning artist/educator Gwendolyn Black confirmed the news of Lee’s passing.

“It is with a heavy heart to announce the transition of our beloved Mable Lee. Mable passed away earlier this evening,” Black shared on Facebook. “She is now at rest among the other dance greats and leaves us with a profound LEGACY, JOY, and LAUGHTER! RIP Dear Angel. FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS AND MIND!!!”

Dear Friends and Family. It is with a heavy heart to announce the transition of our beloved Mable Lee. Mable passed away…

Posted by Gwendolyn Black on Thursday, February 7, 2019

Lee was revered for her “million-dollar legs.” In the 1940s, she appeared in more than 100 soundies, three-minute musical 16mm films, and earned the title of Queen of the Soundies, according to the American Tap Dance Foundation.

At the height of her career, the entertainer was the cover star of EBONY’s March 1947 issue.

Lee was born in Atlanta in 1921 and when she was 4 years old, she began performing. She quickly became known as a prodigy and was performing at popular clubs in her hometown at 9 years of age.

In 1940, she traveled with her mother to New York City to audition for a gig at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. She joined the historic venue’s chorus line and performed her solo acts throughout the city.

The jazz-era entertainer later moved to London to perform at the Palladium, the United Kingdom’s most famous theater. During World War II, she was on the road with the first all-Black USO show troupe and performed for soldiers.

Lee returned to New York in the ’50s and found success on Broadway. She appeared in multiple productions over three decades, including the lead role in the 1976 national show Bubblin’ Brown Sugar.

Later in life, Lee continued to dance and teach. In 2008, she was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame.

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