June 11, 1920: Happy Birthday to TV Show Personality, Hazel Scott

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BY WALTER OPINDE 

On this day, June 11, 1920, the first African-American woman, jazz performer, classical pianist, and a singer, Hazel Dorothy Scott, was born. Hazel also participated in the play and production of several films.

Born in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Tobago, Hazel Scott was then taken, at the age of four years, by her mother to New York City. Dorothy Scott was the only child of Mr. Thomas Scott, a West African scholar from Liverpool, England, and Alma Long Scott, a classically trained pianist, and music teacher. The family then moved to New York City when Hazel was merely four. Recognized as a child musical prodigy, the young Scott was awarded scholarships to study classical piano at the Juilliard School from the age of eight. As a teenager, she performed piano and trumpet with her mother’s “Alma Long Scott” all-girl jazz band, which sometimes featured Lil Hardin Armstrong.

Dorothy Hazel Scott, a pianist, was the first black person ever to start an own TV show: “The Hazel Scott Show,” which was aired in the 1950s on the DuMont network. She was a prominent jazz singer throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Her 1950 TV show, The Hazel Scott Show, featured a variety of entertainments.

By the age of sixteen, Hazel Scott regularly performed for radio programs for the Mutual Broadcasting System, gaining a reputation as the “hot classicist.” By the mid-1930s, she also performed at the Roseland Dance Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra. Her early musical theatre appearances in New York included the Cotton Club Revue of 1938Sing Out the News, and The Priorities of 1942. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Scott performed jazz, blues, ballads, popular (Broadway songs and boogie-woogie), and classical music in various nightclubs.

From 1939 to 1943 Hazel was a leading attraction at both the downtown and uptown branches of Café Society. Her performances created national prestige for the practice of “swinging the classics. By 1945, she was earning $75,000 per year ($997,736 today).

In addition to Lena Horne, Dorothy was one of the first Afro-Caribbean women to garner respectable roles in major Hollywood pictures. She performed as herself in several features, notably I Dood It (MGM 1943), Broadway Rhythm (MGM 1944), with Lena Horne and in the otherwise, all-white cast The Heat’s On (Columbia 1943), Something to Shout About (Columbia 1943), and Rhapsody in Blue (Warner Bros 1945). In the 1940s, in addition to her film appearances, Hazel was featured in Café Society’s From Bach to Boogie-Woogie concerts in 1941 and 1943 at Carnegie Hall.

On 2nd October 1981, Hazel Dorothy Scott died of cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan when she was 61 years old. She was buried at Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, near other prominent musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, and Dizzy Gillespie.

Read more of the story via: http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2009/02/forgotten_woman_in_black_histo.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1981/10/03/obituaries/hazel-scott-61-jazz-pianist-acted-in-films-on-broadway.html

 

Sources

Bogle, Donald. 2001. “The Hazel Scott Show”, in Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 15–19.

Chilton, Karen (2008). Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC. University of Michigan Press.

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