Alberta Hunter was a well known blues singer, songwriter and nurse of American origin. Spanning a career of six decades, she surpassed many human feats and achievements. She started her singing career in Chicago’s Dago Frank’s, a brothel. In course of time, she got the opportunity to perform at the Dreamland Café where she started getting recognition as a singer. In the early period of her career, she used to record songs under names like May Alix and Josephine Beatty. She also worked with some famous figures in the field of jazz like Louis Armstrong, Euble Blake and so on. Her performance in the UK musical film “Radio Parade of 1935” is noteworthy. After her retirement from music world, she worked as a nurse. A recipient of Blue’s Hall of Fame in 2011, she made a brilliant comeback in her eighties which showed her class even after a long gap. During her comeback, she worked for the song of the film “Remember My Name” and performed at Barney Josephson’s club. Besides these, she remained busy in a number of club performances and concert appearances, recordings and television programs. The documentary “Alberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin”, is based on her life.
- Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Alberta Hunter was the daughter of a railroad porter Charles E. Hunter. After her birth, her father left the family. Her mother, who was a domestic in a brothel, married again.At the age of 11, she ran away to Chicago and got a job in a boarding house for $6 a week. During this time, she often used to sneak into various night clubs there to get a chance to perform as a singer.Career
- In 1911, she performed in a club in Chicago’s Southside namely Dago Frank’s. After working there for two years, she left the club when it closed down. Thereafter, she started singing in the Elite Café where she met with pianist and songwriter Tony Jackson.She helped Tony to popularize his song Pretty Baby. For some years, she performed in several nightclubs. In 1917, her performance in Dreamland Café, got her recognition as one of the Chicago’s top blues singer.She travelled to New York to do recording job for Black Swan records. In 1921, she recorded several songs like “He’s a Darned Good Man to Have Around”; “How Long, Sweet Daddy, How long “ and so on.For the next two years, she travelled between Chicago and New York for her performances and recording job. In July of 1922, she recorded a number of songs for the Paramount label.In February 1923, she went through one of the best phases of her music career when she became the first African American singer to be backed by an all white band - the Original Memphis Five.She recorded three songs in the month of February with this band. One of them was “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”. In the same month, she also recorded 14 songs that were backed by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra for Paramount labels.In 1923, she shifted to New York with an aim to perform for Broadway. There she joined the musical cast of “How Come?” and soon got acknowledgement as a skilled performer.After that, she remained busy in recording for Paramount. In 1924, she violated the contract with Paramount when she recorded five songs by using the name Josephine Beatty. As a result of this, she lost her contract at the end of the year.Later, she was backed up by the Red Onion Jazz Babies. In 1925, she recorded with Okeh Records and worked with them till 1926. At the end of this year, she recorded three songs for Vocalion, a Chicago record company.In 1927, she recorded song for Victor. She recorded seven songs with Victor. One of these recording was “Beale Street Blues”. In 1928, she moved to London where she performed at the London Pavilion.In the month of May 1928, she performed as Queenie in the London stage version of “Showboat”, a musical. Though the show closed after three months, she remained in London till 1929.In 1934, she recorded 12 songs in London and these songs were released on the HMV label. One of these songs titled, “I Travel Alone”, was written by Noel Coward. These songs were later released as “The Legendary Alberta Hunter: The London Sessions-1934”.She appeared in the first British film that was shot in color - Radio Parade of 1935. In the month of January in 1935, she returned to the US and recorded four songs for the American Record Company. But unfortunately none of these records were released.From 1937 to 1938, she performed on NBC radio. In 1940, she recorded four songs for Bluebird. After the World War II, she started recording songs through Juke Box (two songs) and Stash (one recoding).Personal Life & Legacy
- She met with Willard Saxby Townsend in Jan 1919 and they got married in Kentucky on Jan 27th 1919. But unfortunately their marriage was never consummated. They got divorced in 1923.She was a lesbian. She used to live with her partner Lottie Tyler. Tyler was the niece of African American comedian Bert Williams. They lived in New York. They broke up in Paris but remained good friends.Trivia
- This famous singer and songwriter did her graduation from the Harlem YWCA nursing school in 1956 to become a licensed practical nurse. After working as a nurse for over twenty years, she retired in 1977.After her retirement, she started working as a cabaret singer in New York at the Cookery situated in Greenwich Village although she was more than 80 years old at that time.
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by Charles H. B. 1850 Sternberg