Updated date:

Forgotten Pioneer Super Model-Donyale Luna

Author:

The amazing story of a supermodel and her tragic death. Luna was evasive, elusive, and alluring.

Covers of Vogue and Harper's Bazzar

Covers of Vogue and Harper's Bazzar

Donyale Luna

Donyale Luna

Exotic Donyale Luna

Exotic Donyale Luna

Early Life of Donyale Luna

Donyale Luna was born Peggy Ann Freeman in 1945 in Detroit, Michigan, to Nathaniel and Peggy Freeman. Luna appeared to have a normal childhood and loved the theatre, often having parts in the Detroit Theatre acting. Homelife was emotional to Luna. Her parents had married and divorced four times. Luna was very tall, lanky, and mysterious, yet she had the grace of a Gazelle even though she was six feet tall.

One day in 1963, photographer David McCabe happened to be in Detroit photographing automobiles for Ford. He spotted Luna. Aware of the magnetism she evoked, and he explained who he was and told her if she ever got to New York to look him up and he could help her with modeling. By the end of 1964, she left for New York and indeed called McCabe. He immediately introduced Luna to Nancy White, editor of Harper's Baazar. She graced the magazine's cover, and reviews were quoted as "she is with the grace and strength of a Massai warrior. Luna is immediately signed with the photographer, Richard Avadon.

There was little modeling for black faces then, and racism was rearing its ugly head. Advertisers dropped advertising, and customers pulled subscriptions were During this time, Luna fell in with the crowd of Sammy Davis, Jr, Miles Davis, and Veruschka. Luna was constantly asked about her roots as she looked so exotic, but she seemed to ignore her black heritage. Her mother was Mexican and European, and her father was African American and South American Indian. Luna invented different versions of her background but never acknowledged being black.

By now, she wanted to escape the prejudice in America and fled to Europe, where the color of one's skin was tolerated more.


Life in Europe

Luna became the first model of color to land on the cover of Vogue, UK. Overnight she became a sensation!. Salvador Dali took her under his wing as his muse. It was Dali who referred to her as a reincarnated Nefertiti. She modeled for some of the best such as Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Paco Rabanne. Andy Warhol captured her beauty in his polaroids. Almost as if she was tired of modeling, she decided to move to Rome. Luna was a Covergirl on eleven different magazines during the years 1965-1975.

She met her soon-to-be husband, Luigi Cazzangia. Together they had a daughter, Dream. But she had, along the way, got into the drugs and booze scene. Luna seemed to be herself, unconventional and emotionally scarred. She lived between fantasy and reality but remained a legend.

Luna died in Rome in 1979 of an accidental heroin overdose. Luna deserves to be remembered as a pioneer African American model. She has paved the way for today's black models like Naomi Sims, Tyra Banks, and others. And today, it is no better time to be a black model. Beyonce referred to her in her video "Countdown."

A girl from Detroit, Michigan, who set the culture on its heels and was the hottest model of the 1960s. Time magazine dubbed her "The Luna Year." There could never another Donyale Luna. She must be remembered.

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Luna Donyale

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on April 15, 2021:

Pamela, thanks for stopping by. I agree she was beautiful but also the first African American model.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on April 15, 2021:

Thanks, Alicia for your visit and comment. I do appreciate it.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

This is an interesting story. I’ve never heard of this model before. I’m glad that I’ve learned about her.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 14, 2021:

This is a very interesting article about Donyale-Luna. She is very beautiful, and I see wwhy she was a mode. Thanks for sharing this information.

Related Articles