Nina Mae McKinney was born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, South Carolina on June 12, 1913. When her parents left for New York she went to live with her great aunt. She later moved to New York to stay with her mother.
After she arrived Nina started performing in Harlem nightclubs. She eventually landed a role as a dancer in the Broadway musical "Blackbirds." It was this musical that brought her to the attention of director King Vidor who cast her as Chick in the film "Hallelujah." Nina became the first black actress to perform in a sound movie and it was this role that established Nina as the first recognized black actress of the silver screen and black sex symbol. Nina’s performance earned her a five year contract with MGM, yet due to Hollywood’s attitude of not knowing what to do with a sexy black actress she only did two films during her five year contract. Yet it was Nina who paved the way for other black actresses to follow such as Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge.
Nina eventually went abroad to Europe appearing in cafes and nightclubs where she was billed as the "Black Garbo." When she returned to the states she did a few more films including "Dark Waters" and "Pinky."
Nina married jazz musician Jimmy Monroe in the late 1930's. She moved to Greece in the 1950's and died in New York City at the age of 54 in 1967.
In 1978 Nina was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Nina's film credits include the following:
- Copper Canyon (1950)
- Pinky (1949)
- Danger Street (1947)
- Mantan Messes Up (1946)
- Night Train to Memphis (1946)
- The Power Of The Whistler (1945)
- Dark Waters (1944)
- Together Again (1944)
- Swanee Showboat (1940)
- The Devil's Daughter (1939)
- Straight To Heaven (1939)
- Gang Smashers (1938)
- On Velvet (1938)
- The Lonely Trail (1936)
- The Black Network (1936)
- Reckless (1935)
- Sanders Of The River (1935)
- Kentucky Minstrels (1934)
- Pie, Pie Blackbird (1932)
- Safe In Hell (1931)
- They Learned About Women (1930)
- Hallelujah (1929)
Check out the following sites for additional information about Nina:
Nina Mae McKinney- The First Black & Beautiful Star
Nina Mae McKinney@Internet Movie Database
Nina Mae McKinney@South Carolina African American History Online
Nina Mae McKinney@Screenonline
Nina Mae McKinney@Wikipedia
Nina Mae McKinney@African American Registry