Vivian Alferetta Dandridge was born on April 22, 1921 to Ruby and Cyril Dandridge. Her mother Ruby would leave Cyril with her baby Vivian in hand and baby Dorothy in her belly.
Ruby, an aspiring actress would put her dreams on hold to push Vivian and Dorothy into show business once she discovered their talents (they were about three and four years old). They were billed as "The Wonder Children" (or "The Wonder Kids") and they sang, danced, did skits, and performed acrobatics. Unfortunately, Ruby knew that she had to go out and find more work to support her family, so she would let a pianist named Geneva Williams move in to care for and train the children as she went out for work. Auntie was a strict disciplinarian and could be quite rough on the girls. In her autobiography, Dorothy would write that if they missed a step, a cue, anything--she would beat them with anything that was within reach.
Thankfully, there is a bright side. Under Auntie's guardianship, the girls would tour all over the South and the Midwest and would make around $400-$500 for every appearance they made.
Photo from an old Life magazine article.
Top: Ruby Dandridge & an unnamed friend (believed to be Geneva Williams)
Botton: Vivian and Dorothy
Once the Great Depression hit, a still hopeful Ruby would move the family to Los Angeles. It was around this time that would be enrolled in school for the first time, after years of only being tutored on the road. Ruby also enrolled the girls in a dance school after being told the girls wouldn't make it Hollywood because of their appearance (read the 3rd and 4th paragraphs). It was at that dance school where they would befriend a girl named Etta Jones.
In 1934, Vivian, Dorothy, and Etta Jones (who was one year older than Vivian) would form the group known as "The Dandridge Sisters".
Popular photo of The Dandridge Sisters, taken probably in the late 1930s
L to R: Etta Jones, Dorothy, Vivian
The Dandridge Sisters continued touring. They toured the mainland of the United States, Hawaii, and would also tour London. They also became a popular act at The Cotton Club and made some small appearances in films.
A song that The Dandridge Sisters often performed was called 'Red Wagon'.
Here is a recording of it with the Jimmy Lunceford Band:
Vivian may be the one singing the solo part in "Ain't Gonna Study War No More", below:
Also, here are The Dandridge Sisters singing at the beginning of this clip from the 1938 movie "Snow Gets In Your Eyes":
Post two tomorrow will focus on life for Vivian after The Dandridge Sisters.
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My own extensive knowledge on The Dandridge family