From 1931 to 1938, Nina was at the peak of her career, what heightening her career was the opportunities to show what she could do. During her European years, producers, directors, managers, positively exploited her talents.
Paris was one of the first stops for Nina Mae with her accompanist Garland Wilson, to appear in cabarets at major nightspots like Chez Florence. In 1932 in Europe, Nina gave a command performance before King George V, in London, England and through her European career, she performed for other royalty figures...princes, princesses, kings and queens.
In 1933 she traveled to London to open at the Leicester Square Theater in a show called Chocolate And Cream. There followed more appearances with Garland Wilson including a tour of Britain and Europe, extending at least as far as Athens. Nina also record a few tunes with Garland Wilson that are available on CD, songs "Rhapsody In Love" "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day" and other tunes. During Nina's Europe tenure she was billed as THE BLACK GARBO. She returned to Britain in 1934 for her first part in a British film. This was "Kentucky Minstrels," a musical starring the popular Black musical hall team, Scott and Whaley. Nina made a guest appearance backed by white musicians(Debroy Somers and his Band) in blackface. Said Film Weekly of her appearance: "Nina Mae McKinney, as the star of the final spectacular revue, is the best thing in the picture, and she, of course, has nothing to do with the plot." This was one of the first British films to star Black entertainers, and was released in the United States as "Life is Real." Some years later, in the 1940s, sequences from this film featuring Nina, Scott and Whaley and The Eight Black Streaks turned up in an obscure American independent production called "Swanee Showboat."
After appearing in "Kentucky Minstrels," In 1935 Nina made a brief appearance as herself in the British documentary feature BBC- The Voice of Britain. She sang "Dinah" during a broadcast of a popular radio show called "Music Hall." "Sanders of the River" from 1935 was Nina's first starring role in Europe opposite Paul Robeson, Nina and Paul received good reviews and honors for their roles. "Sanders of the River" was the first picture to show African life. Film Weekly said of Nina's performance: She looked extremely beautiful, and provided one of the film's few highlights when she sang the haunting Spoliansky/Wimperis song "Congo Lullabye." After "Sanders of the River," there was one other appearance in a British film. In 1938 unused footage, possibly from "Kentucky Minstrels" featuring Nina and her accompanist Garland Wilson, was incorporated in a low-budget comedy called "On Velvet." More successful were Nina's appearance on British television. The BBC started transmitting programs from Alexandra Palace in 1936, and Nina was one of the first Black or White entertainer to be given her own music specials. On February 27, 1937 she appeared with Black dancer Johnny Nit in "Ebony," following by "Dark Laughter" on June 5, 1937 with Jamaican trumpet player Leslie Thompson. Footage of Nina in "Ebony" singing "Poppa Tree Top Tall" was included in a documentary called "Television Demonstration Film from 1937." This was a survey of BBC television during the first six months of operation (November 1936- May 1937) originally intended for manufacturers and retailers to show sample types of programs transmitted. Today it is the only surviving record of pre-war British television and, with Nina singing "Poppa Tree Top Tall," it has been included in just about ever docoumentary film produced in the last fifty years about the history of British television. Sudsequently Nina's appearance cab be seen in such television documentary films as "Salute to Alexandra Palace(1954)" "This Was The Future(1957)" "The Birth Of Television(1977)" "Magic Rays Of Light(1981)" "That's Television Entertainment(1986)" and "The A To Z Of Television (1990)" Europe daily sent reports and reviews of Nina's doings. The press, especially the Black press was happy to report of her conquest. Many rushed to Europe hopefully to get the opportunities of Nina Mae.
Nina's work in Europe is still around. Her work is held at the British Film Institute www.bfi.org.uk Maybe if all of us fans got together we could make a petition to release a compilation of various performances recorded of Nina. It's funny, most of Nina's films in America are said to be lossed or damaged but Europe saved all her work. You will find most of the photos, magazines, memorabilia's you can buy mostly come from Europe then the U.S. of Nina Mae McKinney.
Here's two stills of Nina Mae in "Kentucky Minstrels."