Nina Mae McKinney

Black and white photograph of Nina McKinney

Nina Mae McKinney. 1929/1930. Wikimedia Commons.

(1913-1967) Nina Mae McKinney was born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, SC, to John and Nina McKinney. Her parents moved to New York City and left McKinney with her great aunt, who worked as a maid and cook for Colonel Leroy Springs of Springs Industries. When McKinney was twelve, her parents sent for her, and she went to live in New York. Four years later, she began her entertainment career. At age sixteen, she performed as a chorus girl in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds revue and was spotted in the production. At age seventeen, she was given a five-year contract with Metro-Golden-Mayer (MGM). Being one of the first African American leading actresses in Hollywood, she only performed in a few films and did not gain steady film work. When her contract with MGM ended, so did her Hollywood career.   She toured Europe with pianist Garland Wilson, and they performed in Paris and London. McKinney returned to the United States and married the musician Jimmy Monroe. She toured the country with her own band and landed roles in some all-black films.