Comedy legend and the very first lesbian ever cast on
Saturday Night Live, Danitra Vance, was born on July 13, 1954 and would have
celebrated her 63rd birthday today!
Throughout her career, Danitra was awarded an NAACP Image Award, an Obie Award, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award (x).
Danitra was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Thornton
Township High School. Despite having struggled with dyslexia in elementary
school, she thrived as a member of her high school’s theater program. After graduating high school she attended Roosevelt University, where she studied
playwriting and acting; a play she wrote in college titled “Skylark” is an
iconic piece still performed on the campus today. Danitra also went to London
to receive her MFA in acting, returning home to Chicago in 1971 determined to
get her big break.
One of her recurring characters on SNL was “That Black Girl,” an actress who was constantly denied starring roles because of her race. The skit was a parody of the 1960s sitcom That Girl (x).
A teacher by day and a performer by night, Danitra developed
her comedic voice in nightclubs throughout the 1970s. She was a member of the
successful Second City Comedy Troupe for a while before deciding to move to New
York City in 1981. Her big break came four years later when she was accepted
into the cast of Saturday Night Live! Danitra made history as the first black
woman to become an SNL series regular, the first SNL member to have a learning
disability, and the very first lesbian to ever be cast on SNL – and still to
this date is the only black lesbian to ever perform on the series. SNL made
Danitra Vance a household name, but she left after only season with the show
due to the writers consistently giving her racist stereotypical roles like “That
Black Girl” and Cabrini Jackson the teenage mother.
Danitra laughs with Ray Charles, who she co-starred with in the 1989 film Limit Up (x).
Having left SNL, Danitra began a career on Broadway that
would eventually earn her both an NAACP Award and an Obie Award. Her award-winning
turns were in two George C. Wolfe plays, The
Colored Museum and Spunk. She
also starred in four movies during her post-SNL career, one being Little Man Tate alongside fellow lesbian
icon, Jodie Foster. In 1990, when Danitra was diagnosed with late-stage breast
cancer, she penned the semi-autobiographical play The Radical Girl’s Guide to Mastectomy. The cancer eventually
overtook her on August 21, 1994 when she was 40-years-old. It was only
revealed after her death that Danitra was a lesbian who had been with her
partner, Jones Miller, for over ten years.