Hazel Scott

Hazel Scott

Trinidadian Hazel Scott was a jazz and classical pianist and singer; she also performed as herself in several films. She was prominent as a jazz singer throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1950, she became the first woman of color to have her own TV show, The Hazel Scott Show, featuring a variety of entertainment. To evade the political persecution of artists in the McCarthy era, Scott moved to Paris in the late 1950s and performed in France, not returning to the United States until 1967.

Hazel Scott age 3 or 4
Hazel Scott age 3 or 4

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. By the age of 16, Hazel Scott regularly performed for radio programs for the Mutual Broadcasting System, gaining a reputation as the “hot classicist”. In 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 1938, Sing 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 she 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, Scott was earning $75,000 ($985,813 today) a year.

In addition to Lena Horne, Scott 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, Scott was featured in Café Society’s ‘From Bach to Boogie-Woogie’ concerts in 1941 and 1943 at Carnegie Hall.

She was the first Afro-Caribbean to have her own television show, The Hazel Scott Show, which premiered on the DuMont Television Network on July 3, 1950. Variety reported that “Hazel Scott has a neat little show in this modest package”, its “most engaging element” being Scott herself.

Scott continued to play occasionally in nightclubs, while also appearing in daytime television until the year of her death. She made her television acting debut in 1973, on the ABC daytime soap opera ‘One Life to Live‘, performing a wedding song at the nuptials of her “onscreen cousin”, Carla Gray Hall, portrayed by Ellen Holly.

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