I just received word that African-American burlesque legend Lottie “The Body” Graves (Lottie Tatum, b. 1930) has shimmied off this mortal coil on February 28. Born in South Carolina, she moved with her family to Syracuse in 1931. She began modeling and dancing as a teenager. Classical dance training was to set her work apart from that of many of her contemporaries. When she was old enough she moved to New York City where she performed with the Alan White Dancers.
In the early ’50s she moved to San Francisco, where she met Harlem Globetrotter Goose Tatum while working at the Champagne Supper Club. The pair were married for six years. From the early ’60s she worked in Detroit (at the Twenty Grand) and Idlewild, and for a while had her own nightclub in Indianapolis called The Pink Poodle. In addition to “Lottie the Body” she was also nicknamed “The Black Gypsy Rose Lee“. Graves often danced and stripped to Afro-Cuban music, inflecting her movement with a vocabulary drawn from the Socca, Chi-Chi, Calypso and Cuban dance styles. Her parents were from Barbados. She had appeared on bills with B.B. King and Billie Holiday, and introduced many Motown performers. In later years she continued to make appearances in the contemporary neo-burlesque scene, appearing at conventions, festivals and the like, mentoring younger dancers.
Check out a BBC interview with her here.