The Joy Goddess of Harlem – A Book on A’Lelia Walker



6a015434a64eda970c016302bb4a12970d-800wiA’Lelia Walker here in South Sea pearls and a fur trimmed walking coat

I was incredibly excited to see that one my dear FaceBook friends, journalist, writer and historian A’Lelia Bundles was coming to New York’s Center of Research in Black Culture, The Schomburg to speak about one of her illustrious ancestors, but not the one you’d think she’d be talking about.  A’Lelia Bundles the great, great granddaughter of Madam CJ Walker was headed to New York to give a presentation on her up coming book “The Joy Goddess of Harlem’ about Madam’s daughter, the celebrated diva of the Harlem Renaissance, and A’Lelia’s namesake, A’Lelia Walker.

image3A party at the mansion of Madam CJ Walker, Great Gatsby style

A’Lelia has decided to write a book about her namesake to dispel many of the myths surrounding A’Lelia and to shed light on this multi-layered person whose reputation has been one dimensional, as only a globe trotting, high society, party girl who squandered her mother’s fortune.  But there was so much more to A’Lelia Walker than that.


Many don’t realize that it was A’Lelia who stayed behind in St. Louis mixing, packaging and shipping products off to Madam for her to sell at her various stops throughout the country.  It was also A’Lelia who had an extraordinary keen sense of style and therefore was instrumental in the design and décor of Madam’s salon parlors and schools, which were exquisite and could rival any high-end salon of today.  A’Lelia also played a part in designing Madam’s homes which were exquisite.  A’Lelia also was a primary instructor in the early days, teaching Madam’s students the curriculum to becoming a Walker representative.  And like her mother she was a patron of the arts, a philanthropist contributing to black organizations and causes.

 matters_walker_beauty_salonOne of Madam Walker’s Salons

And as the daughter of one of the first women millionaires of her time, A’Lelia was afforded the ability to live large.  Like her mother she traveled internationally, gave lavish parties that everyone wanted to attend and often times A’Lelia would be the only black person in certain environments.  And she fit in like when she was born to do so.  Imagine this tall, regal, confident, (and only) black women (person) sailing to Paris on a luxury cruise ship with the likes of the Vanderbilts, ascending the grand staircase into the formal dinning area and sizing up the room as all eyes fell on her; deciding who would have the pleasure of her extraordinary presence that evening.  She was seen as a Princess!  She had all that they had in terms of material things, exceptional furs, jewels and fabulous clothing.  But beyond that she had a fascinating and infectious personality; engaging, intriguing, over the top and in part that is why A’Lelia has named her book about her great grandmother, “Joy Goddess of Harlem”.  She brought joy and shared joy everywhere she went, like only a Venusian Goddess can.


Anu Prestonia and A'Lelia BundlesIt was an extra treat for me to meet A’Lelia on my birthday

I cannot wait for this book to be completed.  A’Lelia admits that the book is way behind schedule in part because of all the treasures she continues to unearth about her extraordinary great grandmother.   If you are at all interested in the history of hair, beauty, fashion, the Harlem Renaissance, this book is a must have for your library.  I know that A’Lelia’s ancestors are smiling down on her, as she is doing an exceptional job in maintaining and establishing the permanence of the legacy of this great family.

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