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Scott, Hazel (1920–1981)

Scott, Hazel (1920–1981)

African-American musician, singer and actress. Born on June 11, 1920, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; died on October 2, 1981; daughter of a college professor and Alma Long Scott (a pianist and saxophonist); attendedJuilliard School of Music; married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (the Baptist pastor and U.S. congressional representative), in 1945 (divorced October 1956); children: Adam Clayton Powell III.

Made her debut playing the piano at age three in Trinidad and at five in the U.S. at Town Hall, New York; played piano and trumpet with her mother's American Creolians Orchestra when she was 14, and was featured on her own national radio program at 16; appeared on Broadway (1938 and 1942); recorded more than a dozen records.

Filmography:

Something to Shout About (1943); I Dood It (1943); Tropicana (1943); The Heat's On (1943); Broadway Rhythm (1944); Rhapsody in Blue (1945).

Child prodigy Hazel Scott developed a diversified career as a singer and pianist in concerts, nightclubs, on Broadway, and in radio, films and television that lasted more than 50 of her 61 years. By combining jazz and classical music, she created a unique sound that reflected her early musical training. Scott was born on June 11, 1920, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Her college professor father encouraged a love of learning, and her pianist-saxophonist mother Alma Long Scott recognized her daughter's exceptional piano skills while she was still a toddler. At age three, she made her professional debut in Trinidad. The family moved to the United States in 1924, and, one year later, Scott made her American debut at Town Hall in New York. By the time she was eight, Scott was invited to study at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music on a six-year scholar-ship. This was the first time in history the school admitted someone before the age of 16.

Scott's mother, who was active in the New York musical community, joined Lil Hardin Armstrong 's all-female swing band, the Harlem Harlicans. A year later, Alma formed her own all-women band, the American Creolians Orchestra, and Hazel joined the group when she was 14 to play piano and trumpet. This experience gave Scott additional training in performing before an audience and, in 1936 and 1937, she was featured on her own radio program. By now, Scott had developed a showy style in performing a combination of classics and jazz music, and she made her Broadway debut the same year with the Count Basie Orchestra. This was followed in 1938 by a piano performance in the Broadway musical Sing Out the News, and six years of performances in top New York City clubs.

Returning to the theater, Scott performed in the Broadway show Priorities of 1942. She then joined the show's national tour, which effectively established her popularity across the country. This opportunity led to four film roles in 1943: Something to Shout About, I Dood It, Tropicana, and The Heat's On. She also appeared in Broadway Rhythm (1944) and Rhapsody in Blue (1945). A Carnegie Hall recital also came in 1945, as well as a major social event, her marriage to Baptist pastor and newly elected U.S. congressional representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. The couple would have one son, Adam Clayton Powell III, before divorcing in October 1956.

Scott's career continued to flourish, particularly in the nightclub setting. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but producers canceled it after the House Un-American Activities Committee accused Scott of being a communist sympathizer. She released a statement denying any involvement in communist activities, but in those McCarthyite times the accusation alone was enough to cause a decline in her popularity.

Scott left the United States in 1962 and lived in France and Switzerland for the next five years. When she returned, she again hit the nightclub circuit along the East Coast and appeared in several television programs in the 1970s. Honored for her life's work as a pianist and performer, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1978. Scott died on October 2, 1981, in New York.

sources:

Kernfeld, Barry, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Sally Cole-Misch , freelance writer, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

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