Adelaide Louise Hall, 20 October 1901 – 7 November 1993, was a Harlem and UK-based jazz singer and entertainer. Her long career spanned more than 70 years from 1921 until her death and she was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Hall entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2003 as the world’s most enduring recording artist having released material over eight consecutive decades.
She performed with major artists such as Art Tatum Ethel Waters, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fela Sowande Rudy Vallee and Jools Holland, and recorded as a jazz singer with Duke Ellington (with whom she made her most famous recording, “Creole Love Call” in 1927) and with Fats Waller.
Adelaide Hall was born in Brooklyn, New York (but she was all Harlem), to Elizabeth and Arthur William Hall. Hall began her stage career in 1921 on Broadway in the chorus line of Noble Sissle’s and Eubie Blake‘s hit musical Shuffle Along and went onto appear in a number of similar black musical shows including Runnin’ Wild on Broadway in 1923, in which she sang James P. Johnson’s hit song “Old-Fashioned Love.”
In 1925, Hall toured Europe with the Chocolate Kiddies revue that included songs written by Duke Ellington. In 1926, Hall appeared in the short-lived Broadway musical My Magnolia that had a score written by Luckey Roberts and Alex C. Rogers, after which she appeared in Tan Town Topics with songs written by Fats Waller. Hall then starred in Desires of 1927, (with a score written by Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson), which toured America from October 1926 through to September 1927.
In 1924, Hall married a British sailor Bertram Errol Hicks, born in Trinidad and Tobago. Soon after their marriage he opened a short-lived club in Harlem, New York, called ‘The Big Apple‘ and became her official business manager.
Chocolate Kiddies European tour, 1925
Hall was hired to join the cast of the Chocolate Kiddies revue in New York, where they rehearsed before setting sail for Europe. The initial tour started at Hamburg, Germany, on 17 May 1925, and ended in Paris, France in December 1925 visiting many major cities in-between.
The revue was designed to give Europeans a sampling of black entertainment from New York. Included in the cast were The Three Eddies, Lottie Gee, Rufus Greenlee and Thaddeus Drayton, Bobbie and Babe Goins, Charles Davis and Sam Wooding and his Orchestra. After the initial tour disbanded, Sam Wooding and his Orchestra continued touring the Chocolate Kiddies revue for several years later.
Tan Town Topics, Small’s Paradise and Desires of 1927
In 1926, upon Hall’s return to New York after touring Europe with the Chocolate Kiddies, she was featured in Tan Town Topics, a revue containing songs written by Fats Waller and Spencer Williams. The cast included Fats Waller, Eddie Rector and Ralph Cooper, Adelaide Hall, Maude Mills, Arthur Gaines, Leondus Simmons and a dance troupe called the Tan Town Topics Vamps.
The show opened at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre on 5 April followed by a short road tour on the eastern Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit taking in Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia.
During July 1926, Hall appeared in residency with Lottie Gee and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra at Small’s Paradise, New York. On Tuesday, 5 October, Hall appeared again at Small’s Paradise at a special party, “Handy Night”, hosted by the venue to honor W. C. Handy and to celebrate the release of his newly published book Blues: An Anthology—Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs. For entertainment, Adelaide Hall, Lottie Gee, Maude White, and Chic Collins provided a selection of jazz and blues numbers.
From October 1926, Hall toured America playing the TOBA circuit until September 1927 in the highly praised show Desires of 1927, conceived by J. Homer Tutt and produced by impresario Irvin C. Miller. As the Pittsburgh Courier noted: “Adelaide Hall and assistants have some show.
Speed, pretty girls, catchy music, a touch of art, which touches the border line of nudity – the names of such well-known stage celebrities as Adelaide Hall, J. Homer Tutt, Henry ‘Gang’ Jones, the Harmony, Trio, Charles Hawkins, Arthur Porter, ‘Billy’ McKelvey and Clarence Nance.”
Billed as the star ‘soubrette’ of the show, Adelaide’s performance included several songs, (most notably “Sweet Virginia Bliss”), flat foot dancing and accompanying herself on the ukulele whilst singing.
Recordings with Duke Ellington
In October 1927, Hall recorded her wordless vocals on “Creole Love Call”, “The Blues I Love To Sing” and “Chicago Stomp Down” with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The recordings were worldwide hits and catapulted both Hall’s and Ellington’s careers into the mainstream.
The story behind “Creole Love Call”‘s conception is interesting to recount: In 1927, Hall and Duke Ellington were touring in the same show, Dance Mania. The show opened at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem on 14 November and played there for one week before traveling to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to appear at the Standard Theatre. Hall closed the first half of the bill and Duke was on in the second. Duke had a new number, “Creole Love Call”, which he included in his set. Hall recounted, “I was standing in the wings behind the piano when Duke first played it (“Creole Love Call”). I started humming along with the band. He stopped the number and came over to me and said, ‘That’s just what I was looking for. Can you do it again?’ I said, ‘I can’t, because I don’t know what I was doing.’ He begged me to try. Anyway, I did, and sang this counter melody, and he was delighted and said ‘Addie, you’re going to record this with the band.’ A couple of days later I did”. When Duke was recounting the incident to a reporter he explained, “We had to do something to employ Adelaide Hall,” and then added, “I always say we are primitive artists, we only employ the materials at hand … the band is an accumulation of personalities, tonal devices.”
On 4 December 1927, Ellington and his Orchestra commenced their residency at Harlem’s Cotton Club in a revue called Rhythmania. The show featured Hall singing “Creole Love Call”. In 1928, “Creole Love Call” entered the Billboard song charts at #19 (USA).
On 7 January 1933, Hall and Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra recorded “I Must Have That Man” and “Baby”.
Blackbirds of 1928
In 1928, Hall starred on Broadway with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Tim Moore and Aida Ward in Blackbirds of 1928. The show became the most successful all-black show ever staged on Broadway at that time and made Hall and Bojangles into household names.
Blackbirds of 1928 was the idea of impresario Lew Leslie, who planned to build the show around Florence Mills in New York after her success in the hit London show Blackbirds but Mills died of pneumonia in 1927 before rehearsals commenced. Hall was chosen to replace her.
The revue opened at Les Ambassadeurs Club in New York in January 1928, under the name Blackbird Revue, but it was renamed Blackbirds of 1928 and in May 1928 transferred to Broadway’s Liberty Theatre, where it ran for 518 performances. After a slow start, the show became the hit of the season. Hall’s performance of “Diga Diga Do”, created a sensation.
Her mother was so incensed when she went to see the show by her daughter performing what she termed ‘risqué dance moves’, she tried to stop the show during Adelaide’s performance and banned her from appearing in any future performances. The ban only remained for one performance and Adelaide returned triumphantly to her role the following day.
It was reported in the press of the day that the show’s producer Lew Leslie was so concerned about race violence connected with the controversy surrounding Adelaide’s performance that he took out a hefty insurance policy to cover the cast; the most heavily insured were the principals, Adelaide Hall and “Bojangles” Robinson.
It was this musical that not only secured Hall’s success in the USA but also in Europe when the production was taken in 1929 to Paris, France, where it ran for four months at the Moulin Rouge.
When Adelaide Hall arrived in Paris from America at the Gare Saint-Lazare she was greeted by a reception of fans and reporters that was reported to be as large as the reception Harlem’s Charlie Chaplin had received two years earlier when he visited Paris.
The French artist Paul Colin illustrated several posters to advertise Blackbirds run at the Moulin Rouge including one entitled “Le Tumulte Noir – Dancer in Magenta” that captures Hall’s performance beautifully, as she is dancing and waving her arms about.[ An original vintage poster of Adelaide Hall by Paul Colin advertising Blackbirds at the Moulin Rouge sold on 2 October 2003 at Swann Auction Galleries in New York for $167,500. In Europe, Hall rivalled Josephine Baker for popularity on the European stage.
Vu (magazine) issue N°77 Au revoir Black Birds! (04 09 1929) Adelaide Hall on the front cover of Vu (magazine) as the French say farewell to Blackbirds after their tenure at the Moulin Rouge.
With Blackbirds′ music score written by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Hall’s performances of the songs “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby”, “Diga Diga Do”, “Bandanna Babies” and “I Must Have That Man” made them into household hits, and they continued to be audience favorites throughout her long career.
At the end of Blackbirds tenure at the Moulin Rouge, to thank the cast for their successful run and to welcome in the forthcoming Thanksgiving Day, Lew Leslie threw a big party held in the Paris suburb of Authie and, as well as the cast, invited a host of visiting luminaries including the visual artist Man Ray, lyricist Ira Gershwin, writer James Joyce, German composer Kurt Weill, American composer William Grant Still and producer Clarence Robinson.
A rare group photograph was taken at the event in which Adelaide Hall is seated in the center surrounded by guests including actress and music hall star Mistinguett, recently surfaced and was sold at Swann Auction Galleries, New York for $2,640.
The Blackbirds cast sailed from France back to the US in the fall of 1929 and upon their arrival almost immediately commenced a road tour of the States opening at the Adelphi Theatre, Chicago, on the evening of 26 November. It was in Chicago during December that Adelaide Hall unexpectedly quit the production and hastened home to New York.
1930: Brown Buddies
Speculation that Hall and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson would be paired up on stage again after Hall quit Blackbirds at the end of 1929 had been rife amongst theatrical circles and in newspaper gossip columns. True to the speculation, in 1930, Hall and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson starred together twice at New York’s Palace Theatre on Broadway (in February and in August).
Both appearances were for a weeks engagement. During her February appearance, which was Hall’s first-ever appearance at the Palace Theatre, she received a roaring welcome in front of a capacity house and took six bows at the end of her performance.
It was also noted in several newspapers that Lew Leslie had tried everything in his capacity bar from erecting a ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ to prevent Hall from appearing at any venue with out his consent since she quit Blackbirds.
Having failed, Leslie did however manage to put a temporary restraint on her using any of the songs from Blackbirds in her show. So successful was Hall’s collaboration with Bojangles that in October 1930 the pair were teamed up together again, this time by Marty Forkins (Bojangles’ manager) to star in the Broadway musical Brown Buddies.
The musical opened on Broadway at the Liberty Theatre where it ran for four months before commencing a road tour of the States. Dubbed by the press as “a musical comedy in sepia”, the core of the music was composed by Millard Thomas but also featured songs by Shelton Brooks, Ned Reed, Porter Grainger, J. C. Johnson, J. Rosamund Johnson, George A. Little, Arthur Sizemore and Edward G. Nelson.
After an out-of-town try-out, the musical opened on 7 October at the Liberty Theatre, New York, where it ran a fairly solid run of 111 performances until 10 January 1931.
1931–32: World concert tour
In 1931, Hall embarked on a world concert tour that visited two continents (America and Europe). The tour was estimated to have performed to more than one million people. During the tour she appeared four times at New York’s Palace Theatre.
She was accompanied on stage by two pianists who played white grand pianos. It was during this tour that Hall discovered and employed the blind pianist Art Tatum, whom she brought back to New York with her at the end of the tour.
In August 1932, Hall recorded “Strange as it Seems”, “I’ll Never Be The Same”, “This Time it’s Love” and “You Gave Me Everything but Love” using Art Tatum as one of her pianists on the recordings.
Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, 25 January 1932, review in the Milwaukee Sentinel of Hall’s performance: “Adelaide Hall, attractive young colored singer, dominates a vaudeville of staggering proportions. Miss Hall has the sort of ‘blues’ voice that gets you and she has a fine dramatic sense. Her interpretation of ‘River Stay Away From My Door,’ is strikingly good. And her gowns are lovely.”
1932–33: Larchmont, Westchester County, racist incident
In the fall of 1932, upon her return to New York, Hall and her husband purchased the lease on an exclusive freehold residential estate in Larchmont in the New York suburb of Westchester County.
As news of her arrival in Larchmont leaked into the local media she began to encounter racist opposition from her white upper-middle-class prejudiced neighbors, who threatened court action to have Hall evicted.
After her home was broken into and an attempt was made to set it alight, news of the attack hit national newspaper headlines. Receiving hundreds of letters of support from the American public imploring her to stick it out, Hall stood her ground and in a press statement she issued insisted that she was a true American citizen as her ancestry could be traced back to the Shinnecock Indian tribe of Long Island and as such she had every right to reside where she wished.
1933: Harlem Opera House, N.Y.
For one week commencing Saturday 14 January 1933, Hall returned to New York to appear in a music revue produced by Leonard Harper at the Harlem Opera House.
A journalist from the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper who published under the initials T.Y. wrote in his review of Hall’s performance that “she was excellent” and that he was so thrilled to be at the show he totally forgot to jot down on his notepad the title of the songs Hall performed. He did however apologise for this mishap.
He also mentioned that Hall was accompanied on stage by a guitar ‘troubadour’ and a blind pianist (i.e., Art Tatum) who, he declared, “can really play”. During the same year, Drop Me Off In Harlem was sang by Ms. Hall:
1933: American concert tour
“ADELAIDE HALL TO TOUR THE COAST” – Pittsburgh Courier headline, 22 July 1933
Hall’s itinerary included all the principal cities and lasted 30 weeks
World Fair City, Chicago, 1933
“Miss Adelaide Hall Captures The World Fair City and They Like It” – Pittsburgh Courier, 19 August 1933:
“Miss Adelaide Hall, the darling girl with the guitar and the mellifluent voice, again stole into the callous hearts of an analytical public at the Regal theater last week. She charmed them with her voice, her poise and beauty. She has a style of singing ‘Stormy Weather’ all her own. Chicago belonged to Adelaide for one whole week. And her majesty feigned supreme.” From the Pittsburgh Courier, 19 August 1933, written by Jules Bledsoe.
On 19 August 1933, the fifth annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic took place during the prestigious Chicago World Fair. African-Americans came out in droves to support the event held by the Chicago Defender local newspaper. The Chicago Defender had named the event after a weekly column in its children’s section written by Willard Motley. Billiken became a symbol of pride, happiness and hope for African-American youth. After the famous parade (the largest to date) a huge free picnic event was held in Washington Park that included games, music, entertainment, dancing and ice cream. Performing in concert at the event in front of an estimated 50,000 people was the parade’s guest of honour Adelaide Hall. Also appearing at the event were Cab Calloway, Earl Hines and The Sioux Tribe of Native Americans.
Stormy Weather Revue, 1933
Stormy Weather Revue starring Adelaide Hall
New York, 29 November 1933. “Although crippled from a fall into a manhole while appearing in Boston the week previous to her New York engagement, Adelaide Hall, scintillating star of the Stormy Weather Revue, limps across the stage ahead of an array of stars, which go far to label this revue, about the finest to grace the boards,” review taken from The Pittsburgh Courier.
In October 1933, for the first time in history the entire floor revue from Harlem’s Cotton Club went on tour, playing theatres in principal cities across the U.S. Irving Mills organised the tour and Adelaide Hall headlined the cast. Other performers on the bill included the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and George Dewey Washington. The revue was originally called The Cotton Club Parade of 1933 but for the road tour it was changed to the Stormy Weather Revue. As the name implies, the show contained the hit song “Stormy Weather” written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, which had been introduced by Ethel Waters earlier that year at the Cotton Club in the Cotton Club Parade of 1933.
1934: Apollo Theater, Harlem, Chocolate Soldiers revue
Chocolate Soldiers opens at the new Apollo Theater, Harlem, starring Adelaide Hall
Harlem, New York, 14 February 1934: Chocolate Soldiers, a production featuring Adelaide Hall and the Sam Wooding Orchestra, opened at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The show was produced by Clarence Robinson and garnered great attention and acclaim and helped establish the recently opened Apollo as Harlem’s premier theatre.
The Cotton Club Parade, 1934
On 23 March 1934, Hall opened at Harlem’s Cotton Club in The Cotton Club Parade 24th Edition. It was the largest grossing show ever staged there. The show ran for nine months. In the show Hall introduced the songs “Ill Wind” and “Primitive Prima Donna”, which Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler wrote especially for her. It was during Hall’s rendition of “Ill Wind” that nitrogen smoke was used to cover the floor of the stage. It was the first time such an effect had ever been used on a stage and caused a sensation.
1935: North and South American concert tour
During 1935, Hall performed another coast-to-coast American/Canadian concert tour that took in the South. Prior to the tour commencing she gave an interview (during her visit to Dixie), conducted by the journalist George Tyler that was published on 16 March 1935 in the Afro-American newspaper. In the interview Hall gives a rare insight into her life, disclosing how dramatically it had changed since her humble upbringing in Harlem.
“Much has been said and published too, about the magnificent residence of Miss Hall,” says George, “but my interest was in what transpires behind the portals of this mansion when the singer is at home.”
“I have a sun parlour,” said Adelaide, “in which I take a keen delight. Here, while enjoying the rays of the sun, I crochet and listen to the radio. A great deal of my time off the stage I spend painting or working in my garden. My favourite radio artists are Mildred Bailey, Willard Robison and his Deep River Orchestra, and the Southernaires. My stage favourites include Bill Robinson, Ethel Waters and Ada Brown. While at home I do very little cooking; in fact, there are servants to take care of these details. The cook’s biggest job is to prepare broiled chicken, as that is one of my favourite dishes.’
George adds that the singing star owns and drives her car, roller skates, swims, plays tennis and enjoys horseback riding.
“When I retire from public life I shall resume my career as a modiste,” confided Miss Hall. “As a kid I longed for a stage career, and my first step towards this was to run away from school to try my luck behind the footlights. I was apprehended and sent back to school to continue my training as a modiste. Today, I am proud that I am more than an actress.”
George continues by asking Adelaide about her forthcoming American and Canadian concert tour, which takes her deep into the South: “What do you think of such a tour, under the conditions that exist in the South?” Adelaide replied, “My experience of a couple of years ago while on a coast-to-coast tour should serve me well. Being a member of the oppressed race, I think I will be able to accustom myself to conditions, as they exist. However, there are many details I would rather not go into.”
European career, 1935–38
Hall arrived in Paris, France, in the fall of 1935 and remained living there until 1938. Her husband Bert opened a nightclub for her in Paris situated at 73 rue Pigalle in Montmartre called La Grosse Pomme where she frequently entertained.
“It (the club) held about two hundred people. I made this dramatic entrance coming down a spiral staircase from the attic. Nobody knew that all the boxes of wine and tinned food were stored up there with me. I came down the stairs in the most gorgeous costumes you’ll ever see, floating in feathers and plumes,” recalled Adelaide during an interview.
The Quintette du Hot Club de France featuring Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli were one of the house bands at the club.
At the beginning of 1936, Hall starred in the Black and White Revue. The show of fifty performers opened in Paris, France and in February the production travelled to Switzerland for a tour. The revue was produced by Ralph Clayton, staged by Arthur Bradley and choreographed by ballet master Albert Gaubier who had danced under the direction of Serge Diaghilev in the Russian company Ballets Russes. The orchestra that travelled with the production was under the direction of Henry Crowder.
In 1937, Hall choreographed her own take on the famous French dance the Can-can; she called it the Canned Apple and would perform it at her Montmartre nightclub La Grosse Pomme. Hall is also credited with introducing the Truckin’ dance craze to the Parisians. During her residence In Europe, Hall sang with several orchestras, including those of Willie Lewis and Ray Ventura and in 1937 (while on a trip to Copenhagen) she recorded four songs with Kai Ewans and his Orchestra for the Tono record label.
On 13 May 1938, BBC Radio broadcast Over to Paris, an hour-long programme direct from a Paris studio that highlighted a variety of famous Parisian artists of radio, cabaret and the music hall. The show included performances from Adelaide Hall and Mistinguett, who were accompanied by two orchestras.
British career, 1938–93
After many years performing in the USA and Europe, Hall went to the United Kingdom in 1938 to take a starring role in a stage-adapted musical version of Edgar Wallace’s The Sun Never Sets at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She was so successful and became so popular with British audiences she stayed and made her home there becoming one of the most popular singers and entertainers of the time. Hall lived in London from 1938 until her death.
On 28 August 1938, Hall recorded “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “That Old Feeling” at London’s Abbey Road Studios, with Fats Waller accompanying her on the organ. The recordings were released on HMV Records OEA6391. On 10 September 1938, she appeared in Broadcast To America with Waller at London’s St George’s Hall in a live transatlantic radio broadcast.
On 25 February 1939, BBC TV broadcast Harlem in Mayfair from Adelaide Hall’s London nightclub, the Old Florida Club. The cabaret show starred Hall; also on the bill were Esther and Louise, Eddie Lewis, and Fela Sowande with his Negro Choir and Orchestra. On 20 May 1939, BBC TV broadcast the cabaret show Dark Sophistication, starring Hall performing at the Old Florida Club. On 26 August 1939, Hall took part in the BBC TV production Kentucky Minstrels, which was transmitted live from the 2500-seat RadiOlympia Theatre in London. On Friday, 1 September 1939, Hall was scheduled to appear that evening at 9:00 pm in a live BBC TV broadcast titled Variety recorded direct from the RadiOlympia Theatre. Other performers on the bill included Nosmo King, The Gordon RadiOlympia Girls, Hubert Murray and Mooney, and Bobby Howell and his Band. However, with war looming, the BBC were instructed by the government to shut down broadcasting and at 12:35 the service went off the air for seven years. It appears that the show Variety never took place at RadiOlympia; The Times newspaper for the following day (2 September) noted in their section ‘News in Brief’ that “RadiOlympia closed at 12:30 yesterday”, presumably another result of the country being placed on a war footing. Unexpectedly, the show Variety became one of the first British theatrical casualties of World War II and part of the mystery surrounding ‘what really happened at the BBC on 1 September 1939?’ Also during 1939, Hall became a featured vocalist with Joe Loss & His Band and through 1939 to 1941, Hall headlined the popular BBC Radio variety show Piccadixie. She also toured the UK extensively during these years headlining the Piccadixie British Tour supported by comedian Oliver Wakefield and pianist George Elrick.
During World War II, Hall entertained the troops in Europe for the USO (United Service Organizations Inc.) and the British equivalent ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) in which she served as a captain. Her uniform was made by Madam Adele of Grosvenor Street in Mayfair, London.
Hall’s career was almost an uninterrupted success. She made more than 70 records for Decca, had her own BBC Radio series Wrapped in Velvet (making her the first black artist to have a long-term contract with the BBC), and appeared on the stage, in films, and in nightclubs (of which she owned her own in New York, London and Paris). In the 1940s, and especially during World War II, she was hugely popular with civilian and Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) audiences and became one of Britain’s highest paid entertainers. Her London nightclub The Old Florida Club owned by Hall and her husband was destroyed by a landmine during an air raid in 1939. Her husband Bert was in the club’s cellar when the landmine exploded but he survived the attack. Hall has a cameo appearance as a singer in the 1940 Oscar-winning movie The Thief of Bagdad (directed by Michael Powell (and others) and produced by Alexander Korda) in which she sings Lullaby of the Princess written by Miklós Rózsa. In 1943, Hall featured in an ENSA radio show broadcast by the BBC entitled Spotlight on the Stars during which she was accompanied by the BBC Variety Orchestra. During the show she mentions how she had just returned home from a tour.
On 20 May 1940, Hall’s recording of “Careless” debuted in the British charts at number 30, where it remained for two consecutive weeks. In the August 1940 issue of Vogue magazine (British edition), a photograph of Hall appears on the ‘Spotlight’ page compiled by the features editor Lesley Blanch under the caption: “Adelaide Hall and her husband run the Florida. His show, her songs, our fun.” On 6 June 1945, Hall’s recording of “There Goes That Song Again” entered the BBC British charts at number 15.
Hall appears in the earliest post-war BBC telerecording: a live recording of her performance at RadiOlympia Theatre on 7 October 1947. The footage was filmed on the ‘Cafe Continental’ stage set at the theatre for a BBC TV show titled Variety in Sepia. Hall sings “Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba (My Bambino Go to Sleep)” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and accompanies herself on ukulele and dancing. When the show was broadcast on BBC TV it was 60 minutes in length and included performances from Winifred Atwell, Evelyn Dove, Cyril Blake and his Calypso Band, Edric Connor and Mable Lee and was produced by Eric Fawcett. The six-minute footage of Hall is all that survives of the show.
In 1948, Hall appeared in a British movie called A World is Turning. The movie was intended to highlight the contribution of black men and women to British society at a time when they were struggling for visibility on the screens. Filming appears to have been halted due to the director’s illness and only six reels of rushes remain, including scenes of Hall rehearsing songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “The Gospel Train” (a traditional African-American spiritual first published in 1872 as one of the songs of the Fisk Jubilee Singers). In 1949, Hall appeared on the BBC TV shows Rooftop Rendezvous and Caribbean Carnival.
In 1951, Hall appeared as a guest in the music spot on the first ever British comedy series How Do You View, starring Terry-Thomas and written by Sid Colin and Talbot Rothwell. On 29 October 1951, Hall appeared on the bill of the Royal Variety Performance at the Victoria Palace Theatre in the presence of Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Alongside Trinidad-born US dancer Pearl Primus and the female members of her company, who also performed that year, Hall was the first black female artiste to ever take part in the Royal Variety Performance. In the early 1950s, Hall and her husband Bert opened the Calypso Club in Regent Street, London, and Royalty flocked there. It was reported in the press that Princess Elizabeth was a frequent visitor and that Hall had taught the princess the Charleston.
Hall appeared in the 1951 London run of Kiss Me, Kate playing the role of Hattie, singing Cole Porter’s “Another Op’nin’, Another Show”, and in the 1952 London musical Love From Judy playing the role of Butterfly, singing “A Touch of Voodoo”, “Kind to Animals” and “Ain’t Gonna Marry”. In 1956, she returned to London’s West End in the play Someone to Talk To. In 1957, at the request of Lena Horne, Hall returned to America to appear with Horne in the musical Jamaica. The world premiere of Jamaica took place in Philadelphia in September 1957 and transferred to Broadway on 31 October. In 1958, Hall was cast as one of the lead characters in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s new musical Flower Drum Song, but she left the cast before the musical opened and returned to the UK.
On 1 April 1960, Hall appeared on the BBC TV music show The Music Goes Round hosted by John Watt. The show was an NBA TV version of the radio show Songs from the Shows. On 3 March 1965, Hall appeared on BBC2 television in Muses with Milligan with Spike Milligan and John Betjeman in a show devoted to poetry and jazz. In 1968, Hall appeared in Janie Jones, a new American play written by Robert P. Hillier and directed by Peter Cotes. The cast included American actress Marlene Warfield. The play had its world premiere on 8 July at Manchester Opera House, where it ran for one week prior to its London West End opening on 15 July at the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre).
Between 1969 and 1970, Hall made two jazz recordings with Humphrey Lyttelton. This was followed by theatre tours and concert appearances; she sang at Duke Ellington’s memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1974. On 4 January 1974, she appeared on the British TV shows Looks Familiar (as a panelist) and on What Is Jazz, with Humphrey Lyttelton. On 15 June 1976, she appeared on British TV in It Don’t Mean a Thing. and in 1981 appeared on the Michael Parkinson BBC TV show Parkinson as a guest. In July 1982, Hall appeared at a Gala concert held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London to celebrate the sacred music of Duke Ellington. A live recording of the concert titled The Sacred Music of Duke Ellington was filmed for a Channel 4 TV documentary. Artists also taking part included Tony Bennett, Phyllis Hyman, Jacques Loussier, Alan Downey, Wayne Sleep, Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey and the New Swingle Singers. The concert was hosted by Rod Steiger and narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
In April 1980, Hall returned to the USA and from 1 to 24 May she appeared in the cast of Black Broadway (a retrospective musical revue) at the Town Hall in New York. Among other artists appearingd in the show were Elisabeth Welch, Gregory Hines, Bobby Short, Honi Coles, Edith Wilson, Nell Carter and John W. Bubbles of Buck and Bubbles fame. The show had originally been staged at the Newport Jazz Festival on 24 June 1979, before it was re-assembled in 1980 and staged at the Town Hall. Following Black Broadway, in June 1980, Hall took up temporary residence at Michael’s Pub in New York and commenced a three-week engagement, performing three shows a night. Also in June 1980, she performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival held at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Other artists on the bill included Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Stéphane Grappelli, Mel Tormé, Zoot Sims, Carmen McRae and Chick Corea. On 2 July 1980, writer Rosetta Reitz organised a tribute to the Women of Jazz at Avery Fisher Hall as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. Called The Blues is a Woman, the program, narrated by Carmen McRae, featured music by Adelaide Hall, Big Mama Thornton, Nell Carter and Koko Taylor. Back in the States, in February 1983, Hall appeared on the bill of the 100th birthday celebration for composer Eubie Blake held at the Shubert Theater, New York. Unfortunately, Blake was recovering from pneumonia at the time so could not attend the event but with the aid of a special telephone hook-up to his home in Brooklyn he was able to listen to the entire two-hour show. On 5 April 1983, Hall commenced a month-long engagement at the Cookery in New York. Her accompanists were Ronnie Whyte and Frank Tate.
In 1985, Hall appeared on British TV in the cast of Omnibus: The Cotton Club comes to the Ritz, a 60-minute BBC documentary in which some of the performers from Harlem’s Cotton Club were filmed performing at the Ritz Hotel in London along with contemporary musicians. Also on the bill were Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, Doc Cheatham, Max Roach and the Nicholas Brothers. In 1985, Hall appeared on British TV on The South Bank Show in a documentary entitled The Real Cotton Club. In July 1986, Hall performed in concert at the Barbican Centre, London.
In October 1988, Hall presented a one-woman show at Carnegie Hall in New York. She presented the same show in London at the King’s Head Theatre (Islington) during December 1988. She is one of the very few performers to have made two guest appearances (2 December 1972 and 13 January 1991) on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. In 1989, she appeared at London’s Royal Festival Hall at the Royal Ellington Tribute Concert that included the world premiere of Ellington’s Queen’s Suite, which was written for Queen Elizabeth II. Other artists appearing included the Bob Wilber Band, Tony Coe and Alan Cohen. The concert was filmed by Independent Film Production Associates. Also in 1989, Hall appeared in concert at the Studio Theatre, Haymarket in Leicester. The concert was organized by composer/musician Gavin Bryars and sold out almost as soon as it was announced.
In 1990, Hall starred in the movie Sophisticated Lady, a documentary about her life, which included a performance of her in concert recorded live at the Riverside Studios in London. Her final US concert appearances took place in 1992 at Carnegie Hall, in the Cabaret Comes to Carnegie series. Also in 1992, she was presented with a Gold Badge Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. After attending the award ceremony she said: “I was so proud to be acknowledged. They said, ‘You look like a Queen. You don’t look more than fifty or sixty. You look so well.’ I wore a sequin suit – different colours – it glittered. I must have been the oldest one there! I ate everything that came along.”
Adelaide Hall died on 7 November 1993, aged 92, at London’s Charing Cross Hospital. Honouring her wish, her funeral took place in New York at the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Garden City, New York) and she was laid to rest beside her mother at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. In London, a memorial service was held for her at St Paul’s, Covent Garden (known as the ‘actors’ church’), which was attended by many stars including Elaine Paige, Elisabeth Welch, Lon Satton and Elaine Delmar. One of the participants, TV presenter and broadcaster Michael Parkinson, remarked rather fittingly during his eulogy: “Adelaide lived to be ninety-two and never grew old.”
Adelaide Hall was one of the major entertainers of the Harlem Renaissance. Along with Louis Armstrong, she pioneered scat singing and is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s first jazz singers. Indeed, Ella Fitzgerald regarded her as such. Hall was the first female vocalist to sing and record with Duke Ellington. She holds the accolade of being the 20th century’s most enduring female recording artist, her recording career has spanned eight decades. In 1941, Hall replaced Gracie Fields as Britain’s highest-paid female entertainer.
In the “100 Great Records of the 1920s” Adelaide Hall is at number 26 with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, singing “The Blues I Love To Sing” (Duke Ellington/Bubber Miley) Victor 21490, 1927.
Influential writer Langston Hughes in his book Famous Negro Music Makers (published by Dodd, Mead, 1955) lists individual musicians that helped develop jazz, after which he states that “jazz singers too, had not been without influence on the development of this (Jazz) music”, and then includes Adelaide Hall alongside Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ray Nance and Joe Carroll, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Albert Hunter, Baby Cox and Florence Mills as all being outstanding jazz vocalists of their time.
Adelaide Hall is mentioned in the novel Strange Brother (set in New York in the late 1920s, early 1930s) written by Blair Niles and first published in 1931.
Published in 1998, Marsha Hunt’s novel Like Venus Fading was inspired by the lives of Adelaide Hall (known as the lightly-tanned Venus), Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge.
When Harry Met Addie composed by Gavin Bryars (1999) (Publisher: Schott Music Ltd., London). Bryars wrote When Harry Met Addie as a tribute to Adelaide Hall and saxophonist Harry Carney.
The piece was first performed at the Duke Ellington Memorial Concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on 1 May 1999 and was commissioned by the baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist John Surman. The soprano was Cristina Zavalloni and the London Sinfonietta Big Band was conducted by Diego Masson.
Hall was loosely portrayed as the nightclub chanteuse in the Francis Ford Coppola 1984 movie The Cotton Club.
It was Hall’s husband, Bert Hicks, who suggested to Eric Bartholomew’s mother that he should change his stage name to Morecambe, after the place of her son’s birth, thereby christening the British comic duo Morecambe and Wise.
Underneath a Harlem Moon, 2013–14
During 2013, British singer Laura Mvula revealed in a Blues and Soul interview with assistant editor Pete Lewis that her song “Sing to the Moon” (from her hit debut album Sing to the Moon, RCA/Sony Music) was inspired by the 2003 biography of Adelaide Hall entitled Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall, by Iain Cameron Williams:
“Well, the actual song ‘Sing to the Moon’ came from a time when I was reading a book called Underneath a Harlem Moon, which is a biography of a jazz singer called Adelaide Hall, which is basically all about how she kind of was overlooked, or probably didn’t get the recognition she perhaps deserved. Plus it also talks about how she’d had a hard time growing up, because her sister – who she was very close to – had died tragically of an illness…. So anyway, there’s a point in the story where she describes her close relationship with her father, which I think kind of resonated with me – where she talks about the conversations she had with him and how he used to say to her randomly ‘Sing to the moon and the stars will shine’, which kind of became her thing really that she just took with her everywhere…. And I don’t know why, but for some reason it just struck some kind of chord with me – you know, it was just something I seemed to connect with at that time. And so because of that, it then became a saying that I liked to use myself…. So yeah, because it’s become something I personally like to express, I just thought ‘Sing to the Moon’ would also make a good title for the album as a whole.”
On 11 August 2014, Mvula released her second album, an orchestral version of her top 10 debut album Sing to the Moon, and on 19 August 2014, Laura appeared at The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall performing her entire album Sing to the Moon accompanied by the Metropole Orkest.
After Midnight, Broadway musical 2013–14
A new musical revue After Midnight featuring the classic music of Duke Ellington, Dorothy Fields & Jimmy McHugh, and Harold Arlen, premiered to much praise at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York on 3 November 2013 and was booked through to 31 August 2014.
The show is an idealized fantasy of Harlem in its 1920s–1930s heyday and salutes black musicians and performers such as Ethel Waters, Adelaide Hall, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and the Nicholas Brothers, who became international stars during that era.
At least three of the songs that Adelaide Hall introduced to the world are performed in the show, including headliner Fantasia Barrinos rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby” and Carmen Ruby Floyd’s performance of Ellington and Hall’s “Creole Love Call”. The song “Diga Diga Do” also appears in the show.
A Nite at the Cotton Club, 2014
In February 2014 a new stage show called A Nite at the Cotton Club, produced by Lydia Dillingham, opened at the Southern Broadway Dinner Theatre at The Historic Hildreth Brothers Building in Alabama, USA, in which the actress Brandy Davis portrays Adelaide Hall. The entire run sold out.
ASCAP 100 Years, 2014
On 14 February 2014, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) celebrated its centenary by publishing a timeline of songs chosen to represent the past hundred years. One song was chosen to represent each year.
Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh’s song “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby“, written for the Broadway revue Blackbirds of 1928, was chosen for 1928, and Adelaide Hall’s recording of the song was chosen to represent the year.
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