Been Rich All My Life (2006)



Critic Consensus: The remarkable resilience, energy, strength, and charisma of these women captivate, and their experiences are a historical treasure.

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Movie Info

This documentary follows the most unlikely troupe of tap dancers you're likely to meet, the Silver Belles, five former showgirls who danced at the Apollo and other legendary Harlem venues in the 1930s-40s. It is little remembered that these young women led the historic first strike by African American performers. They walked out of the Apollo one Saturday night in a successful bid for higher wages and established the American Guild of Variety Artists, for black and white performers nationwide. The Silver Belles have rich stories to tell about the history they made dancing at Harlem's legendary venues--the Cotton Club, Connie's Inn, Small's Paradise. They toured the world, were honored abroad, and danced on the first black USO tour (when they stole the "for colored only" signs off the trains they rode in America's Jim Crow south). When the big band era ended, and with it the need for show dancers, they went into other work, until they put their shoes back on in 1985, and kept on dancing. Now aged 84 to 96, they have been performing together to standing ovations at places like Carnegie Hall for the past 20 years, as sassy as they ever were.
Documentary , Musical & Performing Arts , Special Interest
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Critic Reviews for Been Rich All My Life

All Critics (29) | Top Critics (15)

MacDonald seems less interested in the Silver Belles' past than their inspirational present. Eventually, the inevitable broken hips and dizzy spells take their toll, but those who remain seem determined to shuffle-step their way into the sunset.

Full Review… | September 28, 2006
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

[MacDonald's] subjects -- former black chorus girls from Harlem's golden age, when the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater ruled New York nightlife -- are utterly captivating.

September 28, 2006
L.A. Weekly
Top Critic

It's a modest but highly enjoyable tribute.

September 7, 2006
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

Reminds us that every life contains many acts worth hearing about, not just a select few.

August 25, 2006
Seattle Times
Top Critic

If you only watched the first half of Been Rich All My Life, you might walk away thinking it's a so-so documentary about another fascinating, underreported piece of Harlem history. And you'd be at least half right in that assessment.

Full Review… | August 4, 2006
Boston Globe
Top Critic

The film could be more adept and probing, but the ladies -- Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles, Elaine Ellis, Fay Ray, and Geri Kennedy -- are delightful.

Full Review… | July 27, 2006
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Been Rich All My Life


An endearing look at some of the original Harlem showgirls, putting on a repertoire from their 1930s dance ensemble. Upllifting and fascinating look into the early half of the 19th Century entertainment business in NYC.

Mariana Arevalo
Mariana Arevalo

I wasn't too interested in the old footage and history. Watching the Silver Belles (80+ year old women) dance was pretty cool. Would have like to seen their entire performance.

Ida Kern
Ida Kern

Super Reviewer


Great documentary about the dancers of the 40's and the Harlem night clubs they worked out of.Mostly its about women who lived thru some of history's best and worst times and what great lives.Please listen to their stories we can learn so much from them and nothing lasts forever.

ollie sloan
ollie sloan

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