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donyale

Donyale Luna (1945-1979) was an American fashion model from the 1960s. In March 1966 she became  the first black woman ever to appear on the cover of British Vogue. She also appeared in a number of films by Warhol, Fellini and Otto Preminger.

She was beautiful and troubled, tall and strange. Like a shooting star she was here and then she was gone. She died of drugs at 34.

She was 5 foot 10 (1.78 m) and her measurements were 31-21.5-36 (79-55-91 cm), giving her a waist-to-hip ration (WHR) of 0.60. That is extremely low for a fashion model, but this was just before Twiggy changed everything.

She was born Peggy Freeman in Detroit. Her father was a mean man who was murdered when she was 18. She said he was not her true father, but a man who came from Mexico with the name of Luna.

She was discovered in Detroit by photographer David McCabe. Her mother wanted her to stay in Detroit and become a nurse. She went to New York and became a model. When she walked through the doors of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, they called her “an extraordinary apparition”. They put a drawing of her on their cover in 1965. It made her name.

She did not like New York:

There were bad things. People were on drugs or hung up on pot. There was homosexuality and lesbianism and people who liked to hurt.

So in December 1965 she fled to London and Paris, where she made $60 an hour (48 crowns an hour), a good rate in those days.

britvogue1966She was the first black woman on the cover of British Vogue, but her hand covers half her face so that you cannot tell she is black: she could be Italian or Middle Eastern. Reportedly that was done so its regular readers would not be upset.

But it was not just Vogue that had a hard time accepting her race. She did too. She did not like it when people brought up the fact that she was black. In 1968 when asked about breaking down doors as a black actress, she said:

If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Negroes, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.

She lived the high life, hung with the Rolling Stones and discovered LSD. But then she began to act even more strangely. Beverly Johnson said she “doesn’t wear shoes winter or summer. Ask her where she’s from – Mars? She went up and down the runways on her hands and knees. She didn’t show up for bookings. She didn’t have a hard time, she made it hard for herself.” Her modelling days were soon over.

She appeared in some films: “Satyricon” (1969) by Fellini, “Camp” (1965) by Warhol and she played the lead in “Salome” (1972). You can see her on “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” for December 12th 1966.

She appeared in Playboy in May 1975 in a picture of her naked taken by her lover, Luigi Cazzaniga. Their daughter still lives in Italy where she is a dancer.

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You’ve given me a true love
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I hear a symphony
A tender melody
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Ooh, your lips are touching mine
A feeling so divine
till I leave the past behind
I’m lost in a world
Made for you and me

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I hear a symphony
Play sweet and tenderly
Every time your lips meet mine now baby

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Don’t let this feeling end
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Those tears that seem my eyes
I cry not for myself
But for those who never felt the joy we felt

Whenever you’re near
I hear a symphony
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I hear a tender rhapsody of love now

Baby, baby
As you stand holding me
Whispering how much you care
A thousand violins fill the air

Now baby, baby

Don’t let this moment end
Keep standing close to me
Ooh, so close to me, baby, baby
Baby, baby
I hear a symphony
A tender melody

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