Bertice Reading

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Bertice Reading
Bertice Reading Allan Warren.jpg
Bertice Reading by Allan Warren
Background information
Born (1933-07-22)July 22, 1933
Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died June 8, 1991(1991-06-08) (aged 57)
London, England
Genres Blues, jazz, musical theatre
Occupation(s) Actress, singer

Bertice Reading (July 22, 1933 – June 8, 1991)[1] was an American-born actress, singer and revue artiste, based in England for most of her career.

Early life and career[edit]

Reading was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. Her performing career started at the age of 3, when she was talent-spotted by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

She appeared in the all-black revue The Jazz Train, in Paris in the spring of 1955 and at the Piccadilly Theatre in London.[2] In this show she had notable success playing the great blues singer Bessie Smith. Adept at a whole range of musical styles, from gospel to blues to musical comedy, in addition to her talent, Reading also had a striking appearance and a renowned sense of humour.

Her straight-acting performance as a nurse in William Faulkner's play Requiem for a Nun in 1957 earned her a nomination for a Tony Award when it transferred to Broadway. She also appeared in the 1958 musical Valmouth, adapted from a Ronald Firbank novel of the same name. The next years saw Reading spending time abroad in cabaret, as well as having two marriages.

In 1979 she appeared at the Roundhouse in London in Only In America, a tribute show to the musical composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. In the 1980s she presented many one-woman shows, usually debuting at the Kings Head Theatre Club in Islington, London.

In the 1985 solo show Every Inch a Lady, she donned a pink satin tutu and danced to a version of The Sugar Plum Fairy, which had been choreographed by the dancer Wayne Sleep.

She appeared in the 1986 movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, as the "Downtown" older woman, who sings the beginning words to the song "Skid Row (Downtown)". In the Summer of 1986 she recorded a disco album with producer Ian Levine, which she appeared on TV-AM's Good Morning Britain to promote.

She also appeared in South Pacific as Bloody Mary in Bournemouth in 1987.


Reading died at the age of 57 in London, following a stroke, although her age was initially misreported as 54.[3]


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 335. ISBN 978-0313344237. 
  2. ^ Broadway World International Database.
  3. ^ [ Obituary, New York Times'', June 11, 1991.


  • The Daily Telegraph Third Book of Obituaries (Entertainers), edited by Hugh Massingberd, Pan Macmillan, 1998.

External links[edit]