In her heyday Diosa Costello was billed as the “Latin Bombshell” and helped to break the barriers in Hollywood and on Broadway for Latino performers.

Diosa Costello, pioneering performer (Courtesy of National Museum of American History)

Costello, now 94, was born in Puerto Rico but got her start singing in New York’s Spanish Harlem. In 1939 she appeared in George Abbot’s “Too Many Girls,” a musical. Later she replaced Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary in the landmark Rodgers and Hammerstein play “South Pacific.”

Her career included movies, starting with “They Met in Argentina” in 1941 and Laurel and Hardy’s “The Bullfighters” in 1945. In that film Costello sang a song called “Bim, Bam, Bum.”

The gift was part of the museum’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Costello’s story is one that needs to be told, said curator Marvette Perez.

“Diosa Costello was more than a performer,” said Perez. “She was a producer, a club owner and, most significantly, a pioneer. As the first Latina on Broadway, she paved the way for other Latinos. One of the last remaining members of her generation, her story and her costumes speak to the Latino influence on American performing arts.”