Isabel-Sanford

Lady Sings The Blues

Born Elinore Harris, Billie Holiday had a difficult teen and young adulthood period, which included working in brothels, both as a cleaning woman and a prostitute, and being raped. Through this difficulty, she dreamed of becoming a jazz singer. She got her initial singing break when she applied at a Harlem club that was looking for a dancer, but where she got hired as a singer. There, she met and fell in love with the suave Louis McKay. After this initial break, Billie wanted her singing career to move to the mainstream clubs in downtown Manhattan. She took a risk when she agreed to be the lead singer for the Reg Hanley Band, a primarily white group, who convinced her that she would have to make her mark in regional tours before her Manhattan dream could happen. As Billie tried to advance her career, pressures of life, including being a black woman, led to her not so secret substance abuse (especially of heroin), not so secret because of her increasingly erratic behavior, both on stage and off. As those around her, including Louis, worked to support Billie emotionally to get off drugs, Billie faced other issues, such as open narcotic use being a criminal offense, which in combination with the effects of the heroin use itself could be Billie’s downfall despite her singing talent.

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Isabel Sanford (Tilly) on working with Hepburn & Tracy in 1967

“If there’s anything in life YOU consider worthwhile achieving – GO FOR IT. I was told MANY TIMES to forget show business, I had nothing going for me. I wasn’t young, I wasn’t pretty and I was a black woman looking for success in a business where those attributes were certainly not in demand in the 1960’s. BUT I PURSUED IT ANYWAY and Voila!” – Isabel Sanford (aka “Weezy” Jefferson)

BLACK FIRST: In 1981, she became the first African American actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. 

Imagine if she would have listened to the naysayers! Don’t let someone block your blessings … “Weezy” persevered – and the rest is history …

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One thing that I knew about Isabel Sanford: She is the the only Black woman to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. (Which is a shame, hello Phylicia Rashad and Tichina Arnold)

One thing that I did not know about Isabel Sanford: She was 21 one years older than Sherman Hemsley, her George Jefferson. She was born in 1917, Hemsley was born in 1938. 

ALSO, there is an age gap between George and Louise Jefferson’s counterparts, Florida and James Evans of Good Times, played by Esther Rolle and John Amos: Esther was 19 years older than John, who was just six years older than Jimmie Walker, who played oldest child J.J.