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Remembering Mildred Boyd: Roane County’s Forgotten Trailblazer in Cinema

| Famous People, Roane County, Roane Rewind

The legacy of Mildred Boyd stands as a testament to resilience, talent, and the pioneering spirit of Black Americans during the early 20th century. Born in Roane County in 1908, Boyd was the youngest of Creed and Rachel Boyd’s nine children. Before her second birthday, Boyd, her parents, and six of her siblings had moved to Nebraska near Grand Island. Boyd was raised in Nebraska before moving to California in the 1920’s.

In the vibrant cultural landscape of The Golden State, Boyd thrived as a chorusgirl at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City. The popular Los Angeles-area club provided Boyd with a platform to showcase her talents and immerse herself in the Jazz Age. Sebastian’s Cotton Club is remembered for featuring all-Black bands and orchestras (a rarity for jazz clubs of the era) and for featuring performances of the Louis Armstrong Band. It was also where jazz great Lional Hampton got his start.

Entering the Hollywood scene, Boyd showcased her talent and resilience in an industry defined by both opportunity and adversity. Throughout Hollywood’s Golden Era, Boyd graced the silver screen with her presence, though often uncredited and sometimes cast in roles reflecting the racial prejudices of the time. Despite these challenges, her skills as a dancer and actress shone through, captivating audiences in silent films and later productions. Among the movies Boyd was uncredited in was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928), a silent film that has since been lost to time. Her talent can still be enjoyed in “Mr. Adam’s Bomb,” a short film released in 1949, and “Boogie Woogie,” a “Soundie” from the ‘40’s that highlights Boyd’s dancing.

In 1952, Boyd bid farewell to the silver screen. She married later that year and continued to live in Southern California, where she passed away in 1999 at the grand age of 91. Boyd’s contributions are often overlooked, but they are never forgotten by those who recognize the significance of her career.

Photos of Mildred Boyd can be found in the UCLA Library Digital Collections here: