Friday, December 27, 2013

Beatrice Fung Oye

Beatrice Fung Oye was born Beatrice Elaine Moore in Port Huron, Michigan, on January 2, 1921. Her full name was found in the newspaper, The World Herald, and in a Chinese Exclusion Act case file, at the National Archives and Records Administration branch in New York, which also had her birth information.

In the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, she was the oldest of two children born to Louis and Evelyn, both Californians of Chinese descent; her brother was born in California, too. Beatrice’s father was a restaurant waiter. The family resided in Brooklyn, New York, at 343 East 3rd Street.

Beatrice’s singing talent was recognized and heard on the radio. Below is a photo of her from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 21, 1932.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
January 8, 1933

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
May 5, 1933

In the 1940 census, Beatrice was the oldest of three children. Her home remained in Brooklyn but at a different address, 861 East 12th Street.

ABMAC Bulletin, August 1940, reported the Chinese performances at the New York World’s Fair, “Special Programs Offered at Pavilion”.

Miss Li Ling-Ai, who planned the entertainment of special programs every Saturday afternoon in the afternoon. During the August “dog days” these hours may be shifted, for the comfort of actors and spectators alike, so watch the Official World’s Fair Program in the newspapers if you plan to attend any performance. On July 13, Miss Fung-Oye, who sang for us at the dedication day ceremonies, was the featured player, with Chin Wan, the juggler, to close the program. On July 20, Miss Li presented her own interpretations of traditional dances and sang Chinese folk songs, and Miss Jean McNally, an  American student of the Chinese theater, gave a dramatic excerpt from the old Chinese play, “Circle of Chalk”. Mr. Donald Somers, announcer for the Fountain Spectacle at the Lagoon of Nations, on July 27th contributed a very spirited “one man” version of the playlet, “The Goose-berry Mandarin”, which we hope he can be persuaded to repeat another afternoon. Prof. Chin, whose spectacular tricks are so popular with visitors that they have become a daily feature, repeated hourly, gave his show on all of these afternoons. 

U.S. Department of Justice
Immigration Service
New York, New York
November 26, 1940
Beatrice’s Form 430 application for travel to Montreal.

The Knickerbocker News (Albany, New York), July 16, 1941, profiled Beatrice (transcribed below). It mentioned George Jessel hired her for “Little Old New York,” which was a huge entertainment village at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Proud beauty of love is what you’re saying in Chinese when you address Miss Fung Oye, only Oriental blues singer “this side of California.” With her in Albany, while she appeared at the Chinese Relief Festival, was her mother, Mrs. Louis Moore.
Chinese Thrush ‘Gives Out’ with “Brooklynese Blues’
When you meet Miss Fung Oye, 18-year-old Chinese blues singer (!), you instantly suppose she can do contralto wonders alongside the exotic tones of an Oriental flute.
But you’re wrong, because she can’t speak Chinese.
The you chance the guess she probably has abandoned her racial talents in the Americanization process.
But you find put she didn’t have any in the first place. She comes from Brooklyn.
In Albany with 30 other Chinese performers from New York to appear in the China Relief Festival in S. Lake, Miss Oye outdid her Lion-dancing dumb bell-tossing, hand-springing countrymen with ease.
Chinese blues singers are rare, Miss Oye insists she’s the only “pure” Chinese giving out with popular strains this side of California.
She’s Beatrice Moore
The Oriental thrush confides timidly that Fung Oye is only her professional name. In private life, she is Miss Beatrice Moore, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Moore of Brooklyn.
She shies when her mother  accompanies her on her travels, announces:
“Fung Oye is really a pretty name. It means “Proud Beauty of Love.”
Until 1939, Miss Oye never dreamed of being a songstress for anything more than free. She sang “for fun” at Chinese parties, meantime sold 100 sketches to a dress house by way of becoming a commercial artist.
Then George Jessel came in want of a Chinese warbler for his Little Old New York. He couldn’t find one until someone pointed out Miss Moore, who promptly became Miss Oye and a name on Jessel’s payroll.
Has Been Televised
She has since been televised, appeared in Nw York and Montreal night clubs and auditioned for orchestra jobs. She prefers remaining on her own than singing with a band, however.
“People are constantly telling me I should take Beatrice to Hollywood.” explained Mrs. Moore. “They think she could easily become a second Anna May Wong. But I know she has no dramatic ability—yet.
“We’re going to take our time about that.” said the mother.
Fung Oye, was the first Chinese baby ever born in Port Huron, Mich. When still a child, she was taken to Brooklyn by her parents.
She has had no vocal training. I just liked to sing popular songs.” she said. “I still do. It’s quite a novelty, I guess, to hear a Chinese girl sing ‘Everything Happens to Me’ and ‘I Understand.’
“People came up and tell me my diction is wonderful. Of course, they don’t understand that English is the only language I know. I’m Chinese by blood, but American by nature, I guess.”

“New Faces of 1943”
...the striking Brooklyn-Chinese singer, Beatrice Fung Oye...

Portsmouth Herald
(New Hampshire)
April 7, 1945

The World Herald
(Omaha, Nebraska)
July 22, 1945

The World Herald
(Omaha, Nebraska)
July 25, 1945
The article gave her birthplace and full name.

Piqua Daily Call
September 24, 1945

Nevada State Journal
(Reno, Nevada)
January 17, 1952
advertisement detail

Reno Evening Gazette
July 11, 1952

Additional information can be found at Soft Film which has a comment that said Beatrice passed away in the late 1960s of breast cancer.

(Today’s post supports Arthur Dong’s upcoming exhibition, “Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1965.”; next post January 3: Olive Young)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Lily Yuen

Lily Margaret Yuen aka Lily Pontop Yuen was born in Savannah, Georgia around 1902, according to census records at Her marriage license had the birth date December 1908. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, she was eight years old, her name was spelled with two Ls and was the oldest of three children. The second oldest was her sister, Olivia, who was born in Florida. Next was Alfred Brown, a step-brother. A later census revealed that Yuen had two older sisters, Jennie and Edna. Their parents were Joe, a Chinese emigrant, and Josie, a Georgia native, and their father operated his own laundry business.

Yuen attended St. Benedict’s, a Catholic school. She was scheduled to participate in the closing exercises on June 16, 1913; her character was Lucy in the one-act play, “Ghost in the School Room.” In the Savannah Tribune, June 14, 1913 article below, it’s not clear what grade she was in.

In the May, 12, 1917, Savannah Tribune, the St. Benedict’s School report cards were handed out and seventh-grader Yuen received a 95.

In the 1920 census, eighteen-year-old Yuen resided in Savannah with her older sister, Edna, and her husband, John Mingo, both of whom were in the laundry business. Their address was 407 Taylor. Yuen’s occupation was ticket seller at a theater. A 1920 Savannah city directory listing said: “Yuen, Lilly, cshr [cashier] Star Theater, r 407 Taylor, w”. About seven months after the census enumeration, Yuen was injured in a car accident as reported in the Savannah Tribune, August 14, 1920.

Hula dancer Yuen was mentioned in the December 15, 1921, Savannah Tribune.

The passing of Yuen’s maternal grandmother was published in the Savannah Tribune, May 11, 1922.

According to the blog, Soft Film, Yuen started dancing professionally in 1922. A Century of Musicals in Black and White (1993) said Yuen appeared in the 1923 vaudeville revue, “Jones Syncopated Syncopators”. In the following articles, Yuen’s name appeared most of time as “Lily Yuen”, and sometimes as “Lilly Yuen”, “Lily Pontop (her nickname) Yuen”, “L. Pontop” and “L. Pontop Yuen”.

The upcoming performance of Yuen the “wonder dancer” was noted in the Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), February 13, 1925.

The Afro-American (Baltimore, Maryland), June 20, 1925, profiled Yuen in the page four article, “Artist Here from Savannah Had Chinese Father; A Racial Puzzle”.

According to A Century of Musicals in Black and White (1993), the revue, “Brownskin Models”, began at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem in 1925. Yuen was a principal. She also appeared in “Miss Georgia Brown”.

Pittsburgh Courier
January 9, 1926

Chronicle Telegram
(Elyria, Ohio)
January 18, 1926

Pittsburgh Courier
February 13, 1926

Kansas City Advocate
February 19, 1926

Cleveland Plain Dealer
December 26, 1926

Pittsburgh Courier
June 25, 1927

Pittsburgh Courier
July 2, 1927

Pittsburgh Courier
July 9, 1927

Pittsburgh Courier
September 17, 1927

Pittsburgh Courier
January 14, 1928

New York Age
February 4, 1928

New York Age
February 11, 1928

Pittsburgh Courier
February 11, 1928

Pittsburgh Courier
January 12, 1929

New York Age
April 20, 1929

New York Age
June 8, 1929

New York Age
August 17, 1929

According to A Century of Musicals in Black and White (1993), Yuen appeared in the 1929 vaudeville revue, “Hottentots of 1930”.

In the 1930 census, Yuen, age 25, resided in Manhattan, New York City, at 232 West 142nd Street. Her sister, Edna, had remarried to Devereaux Greene, the head of the household. Also there was Yuen’s mother (a widow) and brother.

New York Age
April 19, 1930

New York Age
April 26, 1930

New York Age
May 31, 1930

New York Age
July 12, 1930

The Afro-American
September 6, 1930

New York Age
June 13, 1931

New York Age
June 20, 1931

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
August 21, 1931

Daily Star
(Long Island City, New York)
August 21, 1931

New York Post
August 21, 1931

Pittsburgh Courier
September 26, 1931

(Portland, Oregon)
October 31, 1931
Present Actors Not Always Great, Writer Reveals
Interesting Stage History Recalled
Do You Remember
... When Lilly (Pontop) Yuen waited table in her 
mother’s theatrical boarding house, Savannah? ...

New York Age
October 31, 1931

(New York)
May 23, 1932

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
May 27, 1932

New York Age
June 4, 1932

Pittsburgh Courier
October 22, 1932

The Plaindealer
(Kansas City, Kansas)
April 20, 1934

New York Age
February 9, 1935

New York Age
February 16, 1935

New York Post
July 1, 1936

The New York Times
November 7, 1936
Night Club Notes
... The Kit Kat Klub is inaugurating a small 9 P. M. show for
early arrivals, featuring Dorothy Salters, the Three Roccos, 
Rosetta Williams, Lilly Yuen and Bobby Hargraves band. ...

New York Post
September 4, 1937

New York Post
September 11, 1937

The Augusta Chronicle
March 24, 1938

The Pittsburgh Courier, February 25, 1939, reported the death of Yuen’s older sister, Jennie.
Savannah, Ga. Feb. 23.—Mrs. Jennie Webb, sister of Lily “Pontop” Yuen and Libo Yuen, died here at her home, 612 W. Broad street, on February 2. Libo, who was in Honolulu at the time of her sister’s death, flew by plane to San Francisco in order to arrive here in time for the final rites. In addition to Lily and Libo, Mrs. Webb is survived by her mother, Mrs. Josie Pontop Yuen; her husband Jim Webb; sister, Edna Mingo of New York and a brother, Tommie Yuen, also of New York.
Yuen has not been found in the 1940 census.

New York Age
May 4, 1940

New York Age
November 9, 1940

The Afro-American
September 28, 1946
Headlining in Baltimore
page six photograph

New York, New York, Index to Marriage Licenses (
Name: Lily Margaret Yuen
Gender: Female
Race: Colored (Black)
Age: 32
Birth Date: Dec 1908
Birth Place: Savannah, GA.
Marriage Date: 9 Jan 1941
Marriage Place: New York, Manhattan, New York, New York
Residence Street Address: 131 Edgecomb, Av.
Occupation: Entertainer
Father: Joe Tong
Mother: Josephine Mattie Tong
Spouse: Herman Duane Clark
Certificate Number: 210
Current Marriage Number: 0
Witness 1: Olivia Yuen
Witness 2: Harold W Clark

New York Age
January 18, 1941
Marriage Licenses Issued
Clark-Yuen—Herman D. Clark, 31, 310 West 119th street; 
Lily M. Yuen, 32, 131 Edgecombe avenue.

1948 Manhattan, New York, City Directory
Name: Lily-Pontop Yuen
Street Address: 131 EdgcmbAv .. WAdswth 6-5852

1949 Manhattan, New York, City Directory
Name: Lily-Pontop Yuen
Street Address: 131 EdgcmbAv .. WAdswth 6-5852

Lily’s husband passed away. 
Name: Herman Duane Clark
Birth Date: 1 Apr 1910
Death Date: 14 Jun 1949
Cemetery: Long Island National Cemetery
Burial or Cremation Place: East Farmingdale, Suffolk County, New York

1953 Manhattan, New York, City Directory
Name: Lily-Pontop Yuen
Street Address: 131 EdgcmbAv .. WAdswth 6-5852

1960 Manhattan, New York, City Directory
Name: Lily-Pontop Yuen
Street Address: 131 EdgcmbAv .. WAdswth 6-5852

New York Amsterdam News
May 16, 1964

New York Amsterdam News
August 6, 1966
Down Memory Lane
“Pontop” Yuen
Gorgeous singing and dancing lady 
Lilly “Pontop” Yuen, whose Chinese 
ancestry enhanced her beauty.

In Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart (2001), Yuen recalls the apartment she shared with Josephine Baker and other chorus girls.
Josephine and some of the other girls were staying at 200 West 137th Street, in an apartment up over the Howell Funeral Parlor. She and Mildred Smallwood shared a room. In the 1980s, I went to Harlem to interview Lilly Yuen, who still lived in that fifth-floor walk-up apartment. She told me Mama Dinks had held the leases on a few places like this that she sublet to show people. “There was a bunch of us girls here, Josephine had the smallest of the four bedrooms.
She showed me the long narrow cubicle with a window at one end....“At first I was afraid to live over a funeral parlor,” Lilly said....“People always say she was in the Cotton Club,” Lilly complained. “Josephine wasn’t in no Cotton Club. She was just a chorus girl, baby, we all was chorus girls.”

The New York Public Library, Archives & Manuscripts
Lily Yuen was a singer and dancer, who also considered herself a comedienne, performer of novelty songs, parodies and specialty acts, as well as an emcee, during the 1920’s and 1930’s. She was a principal in the Brownskin Models, an annual touring revue produced by Irvin C. Miller in which her sister, Libo, also appeared. Yuen performed in “Broadway Rastus,” “Fast and Furious” and “Yeah Man.” Lily Yuen, also known as “Hoy Hoy” and “Pontop,” was born in Georgia and lived her adult life in New York City. The Lily Yuen Papers provides some documentation of the dancing and entertainment career of this revue performer, in addition to containing personal family papers. A small number of papers pertain to Yuen’s mother, brother, husband, and her sister and colleague, Libo (Olivia) Yuen. Of interest are two manuscript joke books containing hundreds of jokes, many titled, often about the relationship between men and women. There are also programs for the Brownskin Models, “Fast and Furious” and “Yeah Man,” and sheet and manuscript music, some with parts, and most annotated, including “Can’t Believe” and “Why Do I Lie to Myself About You?” A scrapbook of newsclippings documents Yuen’s career as a Brownskin Model during the group’s nationwide tours (1926-1930). The scrapbook emphasizes Yuen’s fellow dancer, Blanche Thompson, who was a principal dancer in Brownskin Models, as well as Florence Mills of “Bye Bye Blackbirds” fame. Yuen’s sister, Libo, is also mentioned in the scrapbook as a dancer.

An obituary or death notice for Yuen has not been found.

(Updated June 12, 2021; Today’s post supports Arthur Dong’s upcoming exhibition, “Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1965.”; next post December 27: Beatrice Fung Oye)