Duke Is Tops, The (1938): All-Black Musical, Featuring Screen Debut of Lena Horne

William Nolte directed The Duke Is Tops, a musical film released by Million Dollar Productions.

The film was one of low-budgeted musicals made in the 1930s and 1940s forĀ  African-American viewers, during segregation.

Photo: Lena Horne in Minnelli’s musical, Cabin in the Sky.

The Duke Is Tops features the film debut of singer Lena Horne, at the young age of 20.

The casts and production teams of these films were almost all black, and the music reflected current tastes in jazz and rhythm and blues.

The film was later released in 1943 under the title The Bronze Venus, with Lena Horne, now a bona fide star after Cabin in the Sky, getting top billing.

Her voice is not yet as smooth and classy as it would develop to be in her later films for MGM.

She plays a major role in this film, something that save for 1943’s Cabin in the Sky, Stormy Weather and a few later films she would rarely get.

The original top-billed star, Ralph Cooper, was host of Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater for 50 years.

Running time: 73 Minutes

Release date: June 8, 1938


I am grateful to TCM for showing this rarely seen film on August, as part of tribute to Lena Horne.