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Haitian Leader To Know: Josephine Premice

Josephine Premice, Haitian-American, Actress/Socialite (seen in the picture below with her daughter Susan Fales-Hill) started out on Broadway but unfortunately because of racial discrimination against people of color in that industry, she was unable to progress in the early part of her career. She started out with actress Lena Horne (her best friend and daughter’s godmother). She eventually moved her career forward in the later years, appearing on hit shows such as A Different World, The Cosby Show and even the Jefferson’s. Eventually her daughter Susan wrote a book about her mom’s life called “Always Wear Joy”.

She’s been referred to as The Other Josephine. But the reality is, Josephine Premice was her own woman. A seasoned singer. A graceful dancer. An elegant socialite. And a trail-blazer. She was born in New York in 1926 to a Haitian couple (Rete, sa Ayisyen yo tap fè Brooklyn byen bonè konsa?), and split her childhood years between Haiti and Brooklyn.

From the beginning of her days, it was clear that she was going to become an entertainer, studying dance with none other than Haitiphile Katherine Dunham and the equally legendary Martha Graham. And it didn’t stop here, Premice danced and acted on plays on Broadway, and performed alongside veteran Ethel Waters. The late Lena Horne even wrote in her autobiography how taken aback she was by Premice’s talent as a dancer and actress. And she was on the cover of Jet magazine, long before Garcelle!

She married Timothy Fales, but their union, done during the time of blatant segregation, was plagued by problems, as Fales was white, and his father was against their union. Josephine divided her time between France, Italy (where their son Enrico was born) and the USA, along the way giving may spectacular performances, including her last one in 1989, as part of an ensemble cast for an all-black version of the celebrated Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie. She died in 2001 at the age of 74, asphalting the way for so many other elegant divas.

According to wiki:

Premice made her Broadway debut in a 1945 revue show called Blue Holiday. The show was choreographed by Katherine Dunham, who Josephine had studied dance with and her co-star was Ethel Waters.

She was in the pre-Broadway cast of the musical House of Flowers with Diahann Carroll and Pearl Baily. Josephine was nominated for a Tony Award for her work in the 1957 musical Jamaica as Ginger alongside leading lady Lena Horne. (below)

Her next Broadway appearance garnered her a second Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony Award nomination for her role in A Hand Is on the Gate, where she performed African American poetry works alongside James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and Gloria Foster. Her final Broadway appearance came in 1976 with the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. Reviewing the production in the New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote that Ms. Premice can almost make a feather boa come alive. Premice played a supporting role in the 1974 television movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman as Ms. Gautier.  She guest starred on The Cosby Show, and The Jeffersons (playing Louise Jefferson’s sister). She also guest starred in several episodes of A Different World.

An alum of Columbia University with a degree in Anthropology, she was also known for her Calypso recordings and fashion sense. Premice died in her Manhattan residence on April 13, 2001 at the age of 74 from complications of emphysema. She was survived by her estranged husband, Timothy Fales, and her two children, Enrico Fales (b.1959) and Susan Fales-Hill, a television producer, her son-in-law, Aaron, and her sister, Adele Premice.Her daughter published a biography of her mother titled Always Wear Joy.

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