in swahili, that's azizi johari, our june playmate -- who's a great-looking lady in any language
Several years ago, when model Azizi Johari posed for a poster titled Supernatural Dream, she had no idea what it would lead to. It was a simple enough picture -- her face, encircled by a huge Afro, coming out of a cloud of smoke. But at the time, she had no way of knowing that the poster would strike the fancy of Sammy Davis Jr., travel with him from tour to tour and hang in every one of his dressing rooms, that her face, in effect, would be Davis' constant companion for two years. Then one day, she bumped into one of Davis' musicians, who told her all about it. "It just so happened," Azizi says, "that Sammy was looking for a dancer at the time I found out about his hang-up with my poster. He took one look at me in the flesh and that was that. I was hired on a Sunday and was working in St. Louis with him on Monday." As a member of the Davis troupe, she has toured to Chicago, Miami Beach, Honolulu, Las Vegas, New York and dozens of other cities. Her role in the show is a small one, an ad-libbed skit in which she goes onstage between numbers, clad in a pair of superhigh platform shoes and an appropriately tight-fitting gown, and takes Sammy a drink. "Then Sammy tries to pick me up," she says. "In those platforms, I stand about six feet to his five feet, two. First he tries the Latin-lover approach, then the soul-sister routine. But I always put him down. That's what gets the laughs."
But then, Azizi is used to getting good audience response, having been in the spotlight nearly all her life. In high school in Seattle, where she grew up, she and two friends started a singing group called the Marvelles and put out a single, titled Call Me Back, which was a local smash. Bitten by the travel bug, Azizi moved to San Francisco and worked for United Airlines as a stewardess and later in reservation sales, until an old friend convinced her to join a new theater group called Black Arts West. After starring in A Raisin in the Sun, Black Girl and Ladies in Waiting, Azizi landed a part in McQ, a John Wayne detective flick. It was a minor role, but the experience managed to confirm a suspicion that had been brewing in her head for years: that deep down, her first passion was acting. "It's a really strange contradiction," she muses. "On the one hand, I'm a confirmed introvert, overprotective of my privacy. On the other hand, I want to be a star."
Unlike some aspiring black actresses, however, Azizi Johari refused to compromise her values as a black woman. Raised from Creole stock, she gets a particular kick out of describing herself as "literally, the black sheep of the family," a reference to her very dark complexion. In fact, her blackness even moved her to change her name several years ago. The name she chose, Azizi Johari, is Swahili and was conceived by a longtime friend, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, and two members of his group, who complained that her old name just didn't fit her personality. As for her new name: "Azizi means precious or rare," she explains. "Johari means gem or jewel." But then, what's in a name? In this case, plenty.
Photography by Ken Marcus