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Hall, Adelaide (1901-1993)

Actor, Singer

Main image of Hall, Adelaide (1901-1993)

Adelaide Hall, the American jazz vocalist and vaudeville star, arrived in Britain in 1938 to appear in the lavish West End musical adaptation of Edgar Wallace's The Sun Never Sets at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. A decade earlier she had toured with Blackbirds (1928), the show that launched her career, in a cast that also included Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and Elisabeth Welch. This time she stayed and made Britain her home for over 50 years until her death in November 1993.

Her name is most associated with Harlem's famous Cotton Club and the great bandleaders and musicians, such as Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, who gathered there. She introduced her signature wordless phrase (that she had improvised while on tour with Duke Ellington's band) on the recording of 'Creole Love Call' (1927).

She made two brief film appearances. In Dancers in The Dark (US, d. David Burton, 1932), Hall cameos as a singer with the Duke Ellington band, a case of art imitating life, and in the The Thief of Bagdad (d. Ludwig Berger/Michael Powell/Tim Whelan, 1940) her beautiful voice soothes a troubled Princess (June Duprez).

In 1941 Adelaide Hall was reportedly the highest paid entertainer in Britain; she was certainly one of the hardest working. As well as regular stage concert performances at the Florida club in Mayfair, which she owned with her husband Bert Hicks, she was in constant demand for cabaret, radio and later in television programmes, in which she was recorded live from Alexandra Palace.

Her career declined in the 1960s and 1970s, but in the 1980s there was a renaissance, due in part to the release of Francis Coppola's film The Cotton Club (US, 1984). In her later years she became once again the 'sophisticated lady' of jazz.

Williams, Iain Cameron, Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall (Continuum, 2002)

Ann Ogidi

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Thumbnail image of Thief of Bagdad, The (1940)Thief of Bagdad, The (1940)

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