Loletha Elayne “Lola” Falana (born September 11, 1942) is an American singer, dancer, and actress.
Falana’s father left Cuba to become a welder in the United States, where he met his wife. She spent most of her childhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By the age of three she was dancing, and by age five she was singing in the church choir. By the time she was in junior high school, she was already dancing in nightclubs to which she was escorted by her mother. Pursuing a musical career became so important to Falana that, against her parents’ wishes, she left Germantown High School a few months before graduation and moved to New York City.
Her first dancing gig was at “Small’s Paradise” in Harlem. Dinah Washington, the “Queen of Blues”, was influential in fostering Lola’s early career.
While dancing in a nightclub, Falana was discovered by Sammy Davis Jr., who gave her a featured role in his 1964 Broadway musical Golden Boy. Her first single, “My Baby”, was recorded for Mercury Records in 1965. Later in her career she recorded under Frank Sinatra’s record label. In the late 1960s Falana was mentored by Davis. In 1966 Davis cast her, along with himself, Ossie Davis, and Cicely Tyson, in her first film role in the film, A Man Called Adam.
Falana became a major star of Italian cinema beginning in 1967. In Italy she learned to speak fluent Italian while starring in three movies, the first of which was considered a spaghetti western. She was known as the “Black Venus”. During this time she was busy touring with Davis as a singer and dancer, making films in Italy, and reprising her role in Golden Boy during its revival in London.
In 1970, Falana made her American film debut in The Liberation of L.B. Jones and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actress for her performance. That same year she posed for Playboy magazine. She was the first black woman to model for a line of cosmetics that was not targeted solely at blacks, in the successful Faberge Tigress perfume ads. In those early years, she also starred in a few movies considered to be of the blaxploitation genre. She appeared at the Val Air Ballroom sponsored by Black Pride, Inc., in 1978.
American TV audiences became familiar with Falana during the early 1970s. She often appeared on The Joey Bishop Show and The Hollywood Palace, displaying her talent for music, dance, and light comedy. These appearances led to more opportunities.
In 1987, she suffered a major setback; a relapse of multiple sclerosis. Falana’s relapse was severe; her left side was paralyzed, she became partially blind, and her voice and hearing were impaired. Recovery lasted a year and a half, during which she spent most of her time praying. Falana attributes her recovery to a spiritual experience which she described as “Being able to feel the presence of the Lord.”
She converted to Roman Catholicism and worked her newly found spirituality into her daily life. Though she performed again in Las Vegas shows in 1987, her practice of religion and faith became the center of her life. In 1995 she recorded the pro-life song “Don’t Cry, Mary” with Catholic artist Joseph Lee Hooker.
After another bout with multiple sclerosis in 1996, Falana returned to Philadelphia and lived with her parents for a short time. No longer performing, she now tours the country with a message of hope and spirituality. When not on tour, she lives a quiet life in Las Vegas working on the apostolate she founded, The Lambs of God Ministry. The ministry is focused on helping children who have been orphaned in Sub-Saharan Africa, and works closely with the group Save Sub-Saharan Orphans.