"Adelaide Hall" from 100 Black Britons'

18 October 2018

Adelaide Hall was an improvised jazz singer, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1901. A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, the entertainer first arrived in London in 1931 to star at the Palladium, where she was billed as ‘The Crooning Blackbird’. Her European career officially began in 1935, when following racist abuse received in her majority white neighbourhood, she emigrated alongside her mother and husband to Paris. Her husband Bert would open a nightclub there called ‘La Grosse Pomme’ – translated from French to ‘The Big Apple’. It was here that she is credited with introducing the Truckin’ dance craze to Parisians - a craze popularized in Harlem in the 30s.

During the 1936 Olympics in Berlin Hall appeared at Berlin’s Rex Theatre singing jazz. This was to be a notable period because she contravened Adolf Hitler’s ban on jazz music being played. In 1938 she moved to London for a more permanent stay. It was then that she would then take on a starring role in the stage-adapted musical version of ‘The Sun Never Sets’ in the famous Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Also during her time in London, Hall produced a BBC Radio series called ‘Wrapped in Velvet’, making her the first black artist to have a long-term contract with the BBC. Her growing presence meant that she quickly became one of Britain’s highest paid entertainers.

In the war’s final years, she joined the uniformed entertainment corps performing in Europe. Hall was also the first black woman artist to ever take part in the Royal Variety performance in 1951.

Renowned broadcaster Michael Parkinson commented on her death in 1993 “Adelaide lived to be ninety-two and never grew old”. This year she was named by the Evening Standard on a list of 14 inspirational black British women throughout history.

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You can also read Fawcett's research on The Gender Pay Gap by Ethnicity to find out more about how the pay gap affects women of colour, and our Invisible Women report exploring how race, faith, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, location and employment status can combine with gender to create distinct and particularly troubling experiences of discrimination and inequality.