Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


SCOTT, Hazel

(b Hazel Dorothy Scott, 11 June 1920, Port of Spain, Trinidad; d 2 October 1981) Pianist, composer, singer. To USA age four, a piano prodigy at eight, worked with her mother's all-girl American Creolians band. She studied at Juilliard and her mother wanted her to stick to classical, but she chose jazz; at any rate, as with Nina Simone a few years later, a classical career for an African-American woman would have been difficult. Her specialty was jazzing the classics, and her sparkling technique was a crowd-pleaser.

She had had her own radio show '36, appeared in Broadway musical Sing Out The News '38 (played and sang 'F.D.R. Jones'), appeared in revue Priorities of 1942, played herself in films I Dood It, The Heat's On, Something To Shout About '43, Broadway Rhythm '44, Rhapsody In Blue '45. She followed Billie Holiday into Barney Josephson's Café Society '40 and stayed at that famous club for several years. The tunes she wrote included 'Love Comes Softly' and 'Nightmare Blues'. She was married to NYC Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, then divorced. She was the first black entertainer to host her own TV show, on the Dumont network from June 1950.

Always an ardent progressive, she got on the wrong side of Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures, and her film career ended abruptly. (He may be the Hollywood exec who, when he died in 1958, had people coming to his funeral to make sure that he was really dead.) Then the right-wing magazine Counterattack published a booklet called Red Channels in 1950 which named 100 or so suspect lefties in the entertainment industry, including Scott. She volunteered to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, said that she had never been a Communist and scolded the Committee. Her well-reviewed TV show was cancelled in September and he club gigs started to dry up, so she relocated to France in the late 1950s, where she was popular, returning to the USA a decade later, during the Civil Rights Era. She is said to have led the house band at El Morocco, and she did some TV acting. Her last gig was at the Milford Plaza Hotel. She died of cancer.

She had recorded for Signature, then in her heyday released 10-inch LPs for Decca ('Round Midnight and Swinging The Classics), Columbia (Great Scott) and Capitol (Hazel Scott's Late Show). She made Relaxed Piano Moods '55 for Charles Mingus's Debut label, a 10-inch limited edition with Mingus on bass and drummer Max Roach, later reissued on Fantasy; it included her tunes 'Peace of Mind' and 'Git Up From There'. Her recordings 1939-45 were compiled on Chronological Classics CDs. Later albums were Afterthoughts '80 and After Hours '83 on Tioch. 'Round Midnight on Fresh Sound 2004 was a collection of 12 tracks, probably from Decca.

A 20-minute film by Eve Goldberg called What Ever Happened To Hazel Scott? can be seen on YouTube, including some nice footage of her performing, and the usual continuity problems: Billie Holiday did not sing 'Strange Fruit' on 'opening night' at Café Society; Josephson's story of how he hired Scott had nothing to do with Holiday; the film says that Scott's first album was released in 1940 and shows us a 10-inch LP circa 1950.