Tribute to Afro- Latinos
February is Black History Month and even though the greatness of Black people is celebrated once a year. Almas Del Ritmo Celebrates it all year round. Especially Afro- Latinos who have contributed to American History and culture. ADR dance Company is dedicated to the history and culture of Latin dance and Afro- Latin connection. We celebrate the Amazing Artists who have dedicated their time, talent, and tenacity to history, art, culture.
Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes (June 28, 1901 - September 26, 2001) was an American fashion designer and costumer. Born to a Cuban father and an African-American mother who met each other in Havana, Cuba in the early 1900s. She is credited for designing the original Playboy Bunny waitress costumes.
She trained as a classical pianist at the Catholic Conservatory of Music. In the early 1920s, she worked in her uncle's tailoring shop in White Plains, New York. Around the same time, Valdes began working as a stock girl at a high-end boutique. She worked her way up to selling and making alterations, becoming the shop's first black sales clerk and tailor
In 1935, she had her own dressmaking business in White Plains, New York. She eventually oversaw ladies alterations and developed her own dressmaking clientele. Valdes open opened "Zelda Wynn," in 1948 her design and dressmaking studio, on Broadway (in what is now Washington Heights on Broadway and West 158th Street). Valdes said that her shop was the first black-owned business on Broadway. She sold her dresses to famous movie stars such as Dorothy Dandridge, opera diva Jessye Norman, and singer Gladys Knight. Valdes also dressed the entire bridal party for the 1948 wedding of Marie Ellington, aka Maria Cole and Nat King Cole. Additional celebrity clients included Josephine Baker, Mae West, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, and Marian Anderson. Her designing relationship with Fitzgerald was mostly long-distance - she told The New York Times in 1994 that she only fitted Fitzgerald once in 12 years, and did most of her designing for her based on her imagination. Valdes also created a new sexier image for singer Joyce Bryant who LIFE Magazine dubbed "the Black Marilyn Monroe."
Label in dress (c.1940s) worn by Ella Fitzgerald.
Her role in glamorizing women caught the attention of Playboy's Hugh Hefner who commissioned Zelda to design bunny costumes for the Playboy Playmates, an idea suggested by Victor Lownes. She created the original Playboy Bunny costume, which was presented at the opening of the first Playboy Club in Chicago, IL on February 29, 1960. It was also the first commercial uniform to be registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Beginning in the 1960s, Valdes directed the Fashion and Design Workshop of the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited and Associated Community Teams (HARYOU-ACT). Valdes taught costume designing skills and facilitated fabric donations to the student workshops.
She was one of the founders of the National Association of Fashion Accessory Designers, an industry group intended to promote black talent in the fashion industry. This group was established with the sponsorship of the National Council of Negro Women.
In 1970, Arthur Mitchell asked Valdes to design costumes for his new company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem. By 1992, Valdes would design costumes for eighty-two productions. She closed her business in 1989 but continued to work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem until her death in 2001 at the age of 100.
There’s a building in Harlem that houses, some say, the largest collection of Black history in the world. At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, you can see and touch original documents like the Malcolm X papers and the Nate King Cole papers. The center also holds specialized exhibits, film screenings, and panel discussions.
The center is named after Arturo Schomburg, who sold his personal collection of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and data to the New York Public Library in 1926.
Schomburg was a Puerto Rican-born Black historian living in New York City at the time of the Harlem Renaissance. He arrived to the city from San Juan, Puerto Rico at the age of 17 in 1891, and from the get go, he began to navigate being Black and Latino in the United States.
“Here we have a Black man with a German last name with a Spanish accent in NYC in the 19th century,” says Vanessa K. Valdés, associate professor at the City College of New York and author of Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. “And so all of that, his very being challenges what we think of blackness.” Featured image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Arthur Schomburg” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1896.