National Portrait Gallery

Devotees

Adelaide Hall (1901-1993)

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Adelaide Hall, jazz singer and entertainer, was born in Brooklyn, New York. A self-taught tap dancer, Hall began her long and eventful stage career in Noble Sissle's and Eubie Blake's Broadway musical Shuffle Along (1921).

Hall toured Europe with Britain’s Evelyn Dove in the revue, The Chocolate Kiddies (1925). Duke Ellington contributed to the score and Hall’s association with Ellington continued when he encouraged her to become one of the first scat vocalists in jazz. Her wordless vocal on ‘Creole Love Call’, which they subsequently recorded in 1927, was innovatory as a use of the voice as pure jazz instrument. Their association continued throughout her career and in 1974 she sang at his memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London.

In 1928 she co-starred with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson in Blackbirds of 1928, Broadway's longest-running black-cast revue. In the show Adelaide introduced the classic song ‘I Can't Give You Anything But Love’. In the 1930s Hall headlined at New York's famous Cotton Club and opened a nightclub in Paris with her husband, Bert Hicks, a British subject from Trinidad. In 1939 she made London her home where she opened another popular nightspot with her husband: the Florida Club in Mayfair. Between 1939 and 1945 she made over seventy recordings for Decca. After losing the Florida Club in an air raid during the London Blitz, Hall spent the remainder of the war broadcasting for the BBC, touring Britain's music halls, and entertaining troops for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). After the war, she appeared in cabaret and occasionally in West End musicals, including Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate (1951).

Hall toured Europe with Britain’s Evelyn Dove in the revue, The Chocolate Kiddies (1925). Duke Ellington contributed to the score and Hall’s association with Ellington continued when he encouraged her to become one of the first scat vocalists in jazz. Her wordless vocal on ‘Creole Love Call’, which they subsequently recorded in 1927, was innovatory as a use of the voice as pure jazz instrument. Their association continued throughout her career and in 1974 she sang at his memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London. In the 1950s she and her husband opened their third nightclub, the Calypso, in London's Regent Street. In 1957, after an absence of twenty-seven years, Hall reappeared on the Broadway musical stage in Jamaica with Lena Horne. It ran for over 500 performances. After the death of her husband in 1963, Hall's career lost direction. In the 1970s she performed in shows with titles such as The Jolson Minstrel Show. When Francis Ford Coppola's film The Cotton Club was released in Britain in 1985, the British press discovered they had a real-life Cotton Club legend in their midst. To her delight the release of the film gave Hall an unexpected career boost and she found herself in demand for press interviews, cabaret appearances, and television. She said: ‘Look, I'm way past seventy. Before the film, I'd been singing in town halls up and down the country, doing charity shows. People thought I was back in the States, that's how quiet things were. But ever since the movie came out my phone hasn't stopped ringing. It feels good to be a legend—and still living.’ In 1988 there was a triumphant, sell-out homecoming when Hall made an appearance in her one-woman show at New York's Carnegie Hall.

In 1989, Adelaide Hall's happy and joyful personality was successfully captured in Sophisticated Lady, a Channel 4 television documentary that included reminiscences by the star and excerpts from a concert filmed at the Riverside Studios. Also in 1989 she was given a special award from the BBC's Jazz Society. This was followed in 1992 with a Gold Badge of Merit from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Arrangers. In 1991 she was reunited with her 1928 Blackbirds co-star, Elisabeth Welch, in the Cole Porter Centennial Gala at the Prince Edward Theatre. That same year she celebrated her ninetieth birthday with an all-star tribute at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. She died in London's Charing Cross Hospital on November 7, 1993 and her funeral took place in New York at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City.

Further information

Stephen Bourne, Sophisticated Lady: A Celebration of Adelaide Hall (ECHOP, 2001) and Adelaide Hall, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004); Iain Cameron Williams, Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall (Continuum, 2002).

Photography

The press photograph of Adelaide Hall was taken on the 7th of October, 1947 by an unknown BBC photographer. The BBC caption reads, ‘Adelaide Hall, a well known variety artist and singer, who frequently broadcasts in the BBC Home and Overseas Service.’ The photograph shows Adelaide Hall taking part in a programme of Black music called 'Variety in Sepia', that was broadcast from the specially built television studio at Radiolympia. The original negatives were sourced from the BBC archive library and printed by Debbie Sears from Argento using traditional black and white chemistry on Forte warm-tone fibre based paper, printed with a key line; this implies the image is uncropped and we are seeing the full 6” x 6” negative, unmanipulated.

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