Following Guy’s birth, Maya Johnson had a number of jobs to be able to support herself and her son.
After World War II she married Anastasios Tosh Angelopoulos, a Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician, and when they divorced, three years later, she kept his surname becoming Maya Angelou.
In the meantime, she worked as a nightclub waitress and danced in a strip club, which was very important to her as she was discovered there by a theatre group and auditioned for an international tour of “Porgy and Bess”, winning a role. From 1954 to 1955, she toured Europe, and began her practice of learning the language of every country she visited. During that tour, “Porgy and Bess” (*) was presented for the first time at La Scala in Milan in February 1955
Maya Angelou also acted in several plays on and off Broadway, including “Cabaret for Freedom” in 1960. She organized this event after meeting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing him speak, in order to raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which she was named Coordinator.
(*) “Porgy and Bess” is an English-language opera by the American composer George Gershwin that brought America’s racial divide to life
The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black street-beggar living in the slums of Charleston and his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin’ Life, her drug dealer. The opera plot generally follows the stage play.
In the years following Gershwin’s death, Porgy and Bess was adapted both for smaller scale performances and as a film in 1959. Some of the songs in the opera, such as “Summertime”, became popular and frequently recorded songs