Hazel Scott, was born in Trinidad, June 11th 1920. Her father Thomas R. Scott came to Trinidad to teach at St. Mary’s College. The elder Scott was himself an interesting individual who could speak Chinese fluently and was Scottish by birth and African by ancestry. Her mother Alma Scott was an aspiring musician. A child prodigy Scott began playing the piano by the age of 3. Her family emmigrated to New York when Scott was four and by her eighth birthday, she performed in New York City and received a scholarship to study Classical music at the Juillard School of Music.
In 1934 after her father died from pneumonia, Scott appeared at Apollo Theater in Harlem suprising her mother who was perfoming as a saxophonist in the supporting band. Later that year she performed Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra” at Carnegie Hall.
She toured with her mothers band the American Creolians, and was performing in Bars and Nightclubs by 15. In 1936 she had her own radio show and in 1938 at the age of 18 she made her stage debut in the Broadway revue, “Sing Out the News.”
Her jazz technique, she says, she owes to Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson who were personal friends of the family. “I would put a nickel in the local jukebox and hear Lady Day sing,” Scott told Essence magazine in 1978, “and then come home and find her sitting in the kitchen with my mother.”
She appeared in the production, “Priorities of 1942” and played twice at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. Her motion picture career included the following pictures: Something To Shout About, I Dood It, Broadway Melody, The Heat’s On, and Rhapsody In Blue. The combination of two approaches to piano in classical and jazz make Hazel Scott an outstanding contribution to any music lover’s library.
Hazel Scott married the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., noted Congressman, preacher and editor on Aug. 1, 1945. Hazel released a few dozen albums. Her most famous hit was “Tico Tico” and her style is a Stride/Boogie Woogie popular in the 40’s. In the late 1940s, Scott became the first black woman to host her own television show, a position which she lost in 1950 when she was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. She refused to perform in segregated theaters and became an outspoken critic of both McCarthyism and racial injustice.
After her divorce in 1956, she went to live in Paris for five years. She returned to the U.S. in the 1960s to care for her son who was living alone after his father fled the U.S. to escape legal problems. She resumed a television and nightclub career. Called a “musical chameleon” for her ability to shift from jazz to classical to blues, Scott continued to perform until her death from cancer in 1981.
Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America’s Black Female Superstars; by Donald Bogle