As 2021 speeds by, we are as much considering the big questions, like where COVID-19 is taking us, to small, who is wearing what specific piece of latex couture, and how well they might be wearing it. But we really can’t let another week flitter away without noticing the death of Annie Blanche Banks. Or as the world knew her…burlesque legend Tempest Storm.
Born on leap day February 29th, 1928, Banks would become one of the most famous exotic dancers, said to be ‘linked’ to such luminaries as Elvis and President Kennedy, enjoying fame and a salary unprecedented in her field. Growing up the daughter of a sharecropper, not passing further in school than the 7th grade and marrying at 14, for a day, then again at 15, Banks left her second husband after half a year to pursue a Hollywood career. While there working as a cocktail waitress, the lady who would someday be known as the “Last Queen of Burlesque” was told by a customer, recognizing her ‘attributes,’ that she would make a great exotic dancer. Taking the suggestion, Bank took it upon herself to audition for Follies Theater manager Lillian Hunt in 1951. Within a month, she was working in the field that would make her famous and had adopted the stage name Tempest Storm (the other offered her was Sunny Day). By 1956 Storm would sign with the Bryan-Engels burlesque production company, a ten-year contract that saw her earning $100,000.00 a year. This made the lady, who would come to dye her hair a flaming red, the highest-paid burlesque performer in history.
Quickly after her historic contract signing, Storm married Herb Jeffries, the singer in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. Storm would come to claim that her marriage to Jeffries, the man known as Hollywood’s first singing black cowboy, would cost her a potentially lucrative film career, although she did indeed make some film appearances. Interracial romances, and certainly marriages of people with different skin color to one another, were considered quite scandalous at the time…even for someone with such a ‘liberal’ career path as Storm’s.
Not only rockin’ some time with the King Of Rock & Roll, Tempest Storm also toured with a pre-Eagles Joe Walsh with his band James Gang in 1973. Headlining internationally and keeping her legendary figure with a life-long commitment to not take drugs, drink or smoke, Storm worked well into her more ‘mature’ years.
Although making her reputation by taking off her clothes, it’s notable that Storm as much stitched her stage costumes; she’d walk out on stage first, presenting herself in a long dress and mink stole, which, of course, she quickly took off. Talk about an empowered woman entirely in control of her art, couture, and life!
Tempest Storm moved to Las Vegas in 2005 and died there at 93 on April 21st. Here is some vintage video of the lady doing what she was famous for.