Granted, it wasn’t the first event to showcase black female beauty in Harlem: The Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest was held the previous year in conjunction with the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement’s (ANPM) celebration for the Marcus Garvey Day. But Brathwaite was dismayed when the women would change their hair and reapply make-up the following week to go to work—Brathwaite sought to remove the bifurcation of their public selves. He premiered his own show at Harlem’s Purple Manor jazz club, near the corner of East 125th Street and Lenox Avenue (now Malcolm X Boulevard), to much fanfare: It was so popular that a second sold-out show took place. The “Naturally” shows continued through 1980, with commemorative events lasting until 2002.
In the early days, Brathwaite and Elombe rented a studio near the famed Apollo Theater for their newly formed modeling group. They passed out flyers for their events, and, unsurprisingly, naysayers emerged, even within their own community. Brathwaite’s son and the preservationist of his life’s work, Kwame S. Brathwaite, recalled hearing a story of a black man asking his uncle, “Do you mean you’re going to have some nappy-headed women on stage?” Local hairdressers worried that if Brathwaite’s vision succeeded, black women would no longer see the need for perms and hot combs.