Lola Falana is one of America’s pioneering showgirls known for her acting, singing, dancing as well as modeling career. She is widely regarded as the ‘First Lady of Las Vegas’. Lola started her dancing career under Dinah Washington and with her unique style and personality she worked her way to the top of the country’s show business scenario. With time, she also garnered international recognition and became a global icon. Born into a large family, she began singing and dancing at an early age to earn some money to augment her parents’ income. As a teenager she started dancing in nightclubs. Beautiful, graceful, and talented, it did not take her long to become a popular figure in the nightclub scene in Las Vegas. Soon enough, she forayed into acting as well.
Lola Falana got her first ever big break when Dinah Washington offered her the opening act slot in one of her nightclub appearances in Philadelphia. She was just sixteen at that time and the offer from Washington was a generous one for her, which she accepted readily. She was spotted by Samuel George Davis Jr., and was given an offer to appear in his 1964 Broadway musical ‘Golden Boy’. Under Davis’s mentorship, Lola started her professional music career and recorded her first single ‘My Baby’ with Mercury Records in 1965.
She also recorded for Frank Sinatra’s record label during her recording career after the initial success with Mercury Records. She was launched by Davis in one of his films titled ‘A Man Called Adam’ alongside Ossie Davis and Cicely Tyson in 1966. In the next few years, Lola toured with Davis, singing, dancing and also appearing in Italian films. She made a name for herself in the Italian film industry where she was called the ‘Black Venus.’ After a successful partnership, she parted ways with Davis.
She made her debut in Hollywood with a role in the film ‘The Liberation of L.B. Jones’, for which she earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for ‘New Star of the Year – Actress’.
Around this time, she posed for ‘Playboy’ and became the first ever black woman to feature in the Faberge ‘Tigress’ perfume commercials. Lola then took over the television audience with her appearances on ‘The Joey Bishop Show’ and ‘The Hollywood Palace’ where she showcased her dancing, singing, and comic talents.
She later appeared on the ‘The New Bill Cosby Show’; interestingly, she was known to Bill Cosby from her college days. Lola went on to appear in several popular television shows including ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’, ‘Laugh-In’, ‘The Muppet Show’, and ‘The Flip Wilson Show.’ She also appeared in the Broadway musical ‘Doctor Jazz’, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award. She won the 1975 Theater World Award for the same.
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Lola was born in Camden, New Jersey, on 11 September 1942 to a middle-class family. She was the third of the six children of Bennett Falana, a welder by profession, and Cleo Falana, a seamstress. Lola’s father was an Afro-Cuban and who initially served in the US Marine Corps before taking up welding. She started dancing and singing at a very tender age and began singing in the church choir.
After the birth of her two younger siblings, her family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lola began dancing in the nightclubs when she was in junior high school. A few months before her final exams, Lola dropped out of Germantown High School and moved to New York City to pursue her musical career, much to the frustration of her family, especially her mother.
During their professional partnership, Lola and Davis ended up having an affair, which Davis himself confessed to his wife May Britt. This led to the couple’s divorce in 1968. Lola married Feliciano “Butch” Tavares Jr. in 1970. The marriage ended with a divorce in 1975.
Lola Falana suffers from multiple sclerosis and several other health problems which forced her to retire from the show business.