Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant (Part One)

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to meet a legend.  Yesterday, I did.  It was a Sunday evening. My plane landed at LAX just hours before.  My singular mission for the day was meeting two women who, by no means other than a divinely orchestrated plan, had entered my life.

During the infancy of 50 Shades of Black, I was researching extensively about the lives of famous black men and women and the stories behind their rise to fame.  As much as wanting to know about them, I was interested in knowing how their skin tone played a role in how we perceived them.  I wondered what the relationship was between their historical context and perceptions of beauty that were commonly held.  How did they understand themselves in that context?  How was their talent, the magnetism of their personalities, their sex appeal, their physical appearance all wrapped up into a package that we would come to uphold as iconic.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

 …and then I saw a photo of a woman whose image captivated me.  She was unlike any other.  Her radiant skin, her perfect teeth, her hour glass figure…and in photo after photo her signature hair all captivated me.  I wanted to know more.  Who was this woman who many had deemed The Black Marilyn Monroe.  I wrote a blog post about this breath-takingly beautiful woman who I previously had never heard of named Joyce Bryant.

Within days of making the post, I received an email from a woman thanking me for the post, for the work I was doing with 50 Shades of Black, and for my interest in her Aunt.  It was a stunning surprise. Could this be?  Did someone related to a woman who had graced to covers of vintage Jet Magazines just contact me?  Is Joyce Bryant still alive?  How is she?  What would be appropriate to ask?  What would I want to know?

50 Shades of Black Page 60 - ORDER HERE

50 Shades of Black Page 60 - ORDER HERE

It wasn’t long before many of these questions would be answered.  In a series of email exchanges, phone calls, and what I cannot describe as anything other than spiritual dialogues, we built a relationship.  As we made the turn from our exclusively virtual platform to our first printed volume of 50 Shades of Black, Robyn graciously contributed a written reflection later titled The Black Marilyn Monroe to You, Aunt Joyce to Me.

It was an eye opening, heart felt, honest, and deeply personal reflection.  It spoke of success and fame, triumph and struggle, discovery and memory.  It reflected deep gratitude yet longing.  Yet, it was all undergirded by the utmost respect for a woman who, though incrementally being rediscovered, may still not be completely understood.

And then, there I was.  Standing outside of the house about to knock I began to feel the weight of the moment.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect and I felt humbled by that uncertainty.

Robyn’s smile and open arms were as big as I could have ever hoped for.  Her greeting was just the settling gesture I needed to balance my wariness.  When I walked in there was a familiar-ness about the environment:  the smell of freshly cooked food on a Sunday afternoon, the ambient sound of a television in the background, and the wagging of a puppy’s tail wavering between its enthusiasm to meet a new friend and (like me) the uncertainty of new introductions.

I greeted a lovely woman with a huge smile on her face who I later learned was Robyn’s mother and turned to lay eyes on the woman who I too had been affectionately referring to as Aunt Joyce.  When I reached out my hand to say hello, a handshake was not immediately returned.  I paused.  “She can’t see your hand,” someone murmured from the background.

I reached further to touch hers.  This moment was the beginning of our true ‘seeing’ of each other.  Not limited by physical sight, we encountered each other’s presence and it marked the beginning of an exchange that I will not soon forget.

Carlton Mackey
 -Creator of 50 Shades of Black

READ Part 2 HERE


"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

Posted on November 7, 2013 and filed under blog, family, history, music, personal stories.