Broadway's Lion King Star Dies of Cancer

PHOTO Shannon Tavarez is fighting a battle with a virulent form of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.

Shannon Tavarez, the 11-year-old who played Young Nala in Broadway's "Lion King" has died, it was reported Monday.

The little girl with the big voice fought a six-month battle against leukemia, but lost after getting a cord-blood transplant in August that doctors hoped would save her life, according to BroadwayWorld.com.

"It's a great feeling, performing for people and being Young Nala, because she's tough and I feel like that's who I am through this whole experience," Shannon told ABC last summer.

"She's just a great kid," said Joel Karie, a Broadway cast member, at the time of her diagnosis.

VIDEO: 11-year-old star hopes to find a bone marrow donor to help her fight leukemia.
'Lion King' Cast Holds Drive to Find Bone Marrow Match for Young Star Shannon Tavarez

More than 8,000 from around the country, including the rapper 50 Cent, had volunteered to be bone marrow donors in her name, but no match was ever found.

The fact that Shannon, who has no siblings, was part African-American and part hispanic, made it harder to find a bone marrow transplant. Of the 7 million Americans listed as potential donors, only 12 percent are minorities, according to DKMS Americas.

The star also underwent chemotherapy last summer.

Shannon was 5 years old when her mother realized she could sing.

Video: Lion King star battles leukemia.
Lion King Broadway star fights for her life

"She sang an Alicia Keys song, 'I Keep on Falling,' and when she sang it, it was just unbelievable!" said her mother Odiney Brown, a contract analyst for the City of New York.

By 11, the talented girl competed against thousands of other star-struck young girls to win the part of young Nala, Simba's feisty feline girlfriend in the Broadway production of "The Lion King."

The little girl who loved Silly Bandz and "Twilight," was living her dream. But then the circle of life took a terrible turn. In April, when she was performing on stage, she knew something wasn't right.

"It was hard to walk, I was fatigued and tired a lot," Shannon told ABC's Good Morning America.

The talented star was diagosed with acute myeloid leukemia and immediately began chemotherapy, finishing her Queens fifth grade but missing graduation and the big school dance.

"That day we never left," said her mother. "We were in the hospital for almost two months."

Hoping to fight the disease with a bone marrow transplant, her cast mates came together to hold a drive at the Minskoff Theater in Times Square, but none was ever found.

Both African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in the registry of potential bone marrow donors. According to the National Bone Marrow Program, only 7 percent, or about 550,000, are African-American. Only 3 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent Asian.

"We know minorities are underrepresented and have more varied DNA," said Katarina Harf, DKMS executive vice president. "It's like finding a needle in a haystack, looking for your genetic twin."

Tavarez got the role of Simba's girlfriend in the popular musical after her first-ever open audition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She had never appeared in a professional production, only in school recitals and plays.

Her mother, Odiney Brown, who works for the City of New York as a contract analyst for the Human Resources Administration, said her daughter was "the feisty, fierce lion. She really fears nothing."

Shannon had attended Harlem School of the Arts for vocals and piano since the age of 3, and it was her coach who saw the notification for try-outs.

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