Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter is one of my personal favorites.  She personified "energy." Her life directly reflects that as my grandmother use to say "Lord willing and the creek don't rise..." you are never too old to follow your dream.

Alberta was born April 1, 1895 in Memphis, TN to Laura Peterson and Charles Hunter. She was one of four children and frequently sang at local concerts as a child.  While still a child, her family moved to Chicago, IL where she was saturated with "good time" music and the life that surrounded it.

During the late teens and 1920's Alberta performed at a feverish pace.  In 1922 she replaced Bessie Smith in the musical comedy HOW COME; 1924 she recorded with Louis Armstrong's Red Onion Jazz Babies; 1927 she performed her cabaret act in London, England to rave revues; 1928 she appeared with Paul Robeson and Edith Wilson in the London production of SHOWBOAT; in 1929 she headlined The Cotton Club in Paris and on and on and on.

Alberta sings a song she wrote, "I Got a Mind to Ramble and I Just Don't Know Where to Go."  She knew where she was going when it came to her music. Alberta was a prolific and very talented song writer.  She knew how to turn a phrase.  Some of her songs include: "I  Want a, Two-Fisted, Double-Jointed, Rough and Ready Man" (well, Like I said, she knew what she wanted:-),  "You Got to Reap Just What You Sow," "Amtrak Blues,"  " I Got Myself a Working Man," "Now I Am Satisfied, " "Down-Hearted Blues" and so many more.  She was a brilliant lyricist with a great sense of humor and just a  touch (sometime a big touch!) of "naughtiness" thrown in for good measure.

During the 1940's, Alberta was awarded the medal for MERITORIOUS SERVICE for her work with the USO.

After WWII,  Alberta gave up "the biz" to take care of her mother who was quite sick at the time.  At the age of 59, Ms. Hunter enrolled into a practical nursing program in Harlem.  She worked for 20 years as a nurse. "She lied about her age as a youngster and she lied about it for reverse reasons and began a new career at an age when most people retire. Many friends urged her to perform again but she stoutly refused, saying her life was dedicated to helping others." (Harrison, BLACK PEARLS, BLUES QUEENS of the 1920's) At the age of 81, Alberta Hunter retired from nursing (many of her colleagues thought she was 61!) and in 1977 returned to the stage.  She was feisty and fearless, wowing audiences around the world.  She received world-wide acclaim and the recognition she so deserved.

"Her blues was fine and mellow or low-down and gutsy, demonstrating her versatility ...If she ever had the blues (and who has not), she sang them right into the ground and kept on moving until her death in the summer of 1984." (Harrison)

In 1957, Barry Ulanov in the book "A Handbook to Jazz" states that Ms. Hunter was  " perhaps the most influential of all American blues singers in Europe..."   I say, not only in Europe - she was a *true* pioneer of the music and should be recognized as such.

I HIGHLY recommend that you take a listen to Alberta Hunter.  You will be hooked for sure!

Lea Gilmore
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Alberta Hunter


©1998 Lea A. Gilmore and P.W. Fenton, All Rights Reserved.