Falana circa 1972.
September 11, 1942
Camden, New Jersey, U.S.
|Home town||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
Feliciano Tavares, Jr.
(m. 1970; div. 1975)
Loletha Elayne Falana or Loletha Elaine Falana (sources differ) (born September 11, 1942), better known by her stage name Lola Falana, is an American singer, dancer, model and actress.
Lola Falana was born in Camden, New Jersey. She was the third of six children born to Bennett, a welder and Cleo Falana, a seamstress (1921–2010). Lola Falana's father, an Afro-Cuban, left his homeland of Cuba to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, later becoming a welder shortly after meeting Falana's mother who was African-American. By the age of three Lola Falana was dancing, and by age five she was singing in the church choir. In 1952, Lola Falana's family which by this time included two more siblings, moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By the time she was in junior high school, Falana was already dancing in nightclubs to which she was escorted by her mother. Pursuing a musical career became so important to her that, against her parents' wishes, she dropped out of Germantown High School a few months before graduation and moved to New York City.
In 1958, Lola Falana's first dancing gig was at age sixteen during a Dinah Washington nightclub appearance in Philadelphia in which Washington gave her the opening act slot to perform. Washington, dubbed the "Queen of Blues", was influential in fostering Falana's early career. While dancing in a chorus line in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Falana was discovered by Sammy Davis Jr., who gave her a featured role in his 1964 Broadway musical Golden Boy. After the musical, Falana launched her music career later in 1964. Her first single, "My Baby", was recorded and released for Mercury Records in 1965. Later in her career, she recorded under Frank Sinatra's record label. In the late 1960s, Falana was mentored by Sammy Davis, Jr.
In 1966, Davis cast Falana, along with himself, Ossie Davis, and Cicely Tyson, in her first film role, in A Man Called Adam. Lola Falana became a major star of Italian cinema beginning in 1967. In Italy she learned to speak fluent Italian while starring in three movies, the first of which was considered a spaghetti western. She was known as the "Black Venus". During this time she was busy touring with Davis as a singer and dancer, making films in Italy, and reprising her role in Golden Boy during its revival in London. In 1969, Lola Falana ended her close working relationship with Sammy Davis Jr., though the two remained friends. "If I didn't break away," She told TV Guide, "I would always be known as the little dancer with Sammy Davis Jr. ... I wanted to be known as something more." In 1970, she made her American film debut in The Liberation of L.B. Jones and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year - Actress for her performance. That same year she posed for Playboy magazine. She was the first black woman to model for the Faberge "Tigress" perfume ads. In those early years, she also starred in a few movies considered to be of the blaxploitation genre. She appeared at the Val Air Ballroom sponsored by Black Pride, Inc., in 1978.
American TV audiences became familiar with Lola Falana during the early 1970s. She often appeared on The Joey Bishop Show and The Hollywood Palace, displaying her talent for music, dance, and light comedy. These appearances led to more opportunities. She was the first supporting player hired by Bill Cosby for his much-anticipated variety hour, The New Bill Cosby Show, which made its debut on September 11, 1972 (her 30th birthday) on CBS. Cosby had met Lola Falana in his college days, when he was a struggling comic and she was a 14-year-old dancing for $10 a show in Philadelphia nightclubs. Throughout the mid-1970s, Lola Falana made guest appearances on many popular TV shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Muppet Show, Laugh-In and The Flip Wilson Show. She also starred in her own television specials. In 1975, Lola Falana's disco record There's A Man Out There Somewhere reached #67 on the Billboard R&B chart. That same year, she returned to Broadway as the lead in the musical Doctor Jazz. Although the production closed after just five performances, Falana was nominated for a Tony Award and won the 1975 Theater World Award.
With help from Sammy Davis, Jr., she brought her act to Las Vegas and became a top draw there. By the late 1970s, Falana was considered the "Queen of Las Vegas". She played to sold-out crowds at The Sands, The Riviera, and the MGM Grand hotels. Finally The Aladdin offered her $100,000 a week to perform. At the time, Falana was the highest paid female performer in Las Vegas. Her show ran twenty weeks a year and became a major tourist attraction. While still playing to sold-out crowds in Las Vegas, Falana joined the cast of a short-lived CBS soap opera, Capitol, as Charity Blake, a wealthy entertainment mogul. In 1983, Falana was appearing at Bally's hotel and casino in Atlantic City and, while playing baccarat, won a minority stake in the New York Mets, a stake she held until she sold it in 1988 for 14 million dollars to Frank Cashen.
In 1995, Lola Falana recorded the song "Don't Cry, Mary" with Catholic artist Joseph Lee Hooker. No longer performing, she now tours the country with a message of hope and spirituality. When not on tour, she lives a quiet life in Las Vegas working on the apostolate she founded, The Lambs of God Ministry. The ministry is focused on helping children who have been orphaned in Sub-Saharan Africa, and works closely with the group Save Sub-Saharan Orphans. Lola Falana's last known musical performance was in 1997, at Wayne Newton's theater in Branson, Missouri.
Sometime during 1965–1968, Lola Falana had an affair with her then–mentor Sammy Davis Jr. which became public knowledge after Davis confessed it to his then–wife May Britt, which led to their divorce in 1968. Lola Falana was married to Feliciano "Butch" Tavares Jr., one of five brothers of the popular R&B/soul vocal band Tavares in 1970; later divorcing in 1975.
In 1987, Lola Falana suffered a severe relapse of multiple sclerosis. Lola Falana's left side was paralyzed, she became partially blind, and her voice and hearing were impaired. Her recovery lasted a year and a half, during which she spent most of her time praying. Lola Falana attributes her recovery to a spiritual experience which she described as "Being able to feel the presence of the Lord." Falana converted to Roman Catholicism in 1988 and worked her newly found spirituality into her daily life. Though she performed again in Las Vegas shows in 1987, Falana's practice of religion and faith became the center of her life. After another bout with multiple sclerosis in 1996, Falana returned to Philadelphia and lived with her parents for a short time.
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