Born and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania, Bertice Reading began her career in show business when she danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson when she was just three years old. Though she met with some early success in the United States, Bertice Reading moved to Great Britain as a young woman, and it was there that her career as a singer, actress, and cabaret performer began in earnest.
An important early European performance for Reading was her appearance in “Jazz Train.” “Jazz Train,” a history of jazz in performance, began as a nightclub revue in New York during the late 1940s. In 1955, sixty five United States Air Force Officers financed a production of the show in London. The show, which featured an all-black cast, was a huge success. The first show was “wildly cheered” and “all the critics hailed Bertice Reading, twenty-one-year-old blues singer, as a major discovery.”1
Reading would remain in England for much of her career, returning to the United States for a number of successful performances, including a Tony-nominated supporting performance in Requiem for a Nun in 1959, which was, Van Vechten wrote, “a flop save for the performance of Bertice which took all the applause.”2 She also appeared in Measure for Measure at the National Theater in 1981. Reading’s career included, too, a number of screen credits, among them an appearance as the Downtown Old Woman in Little Shop of Horrors (1986).