Hazel Scott: From Child Prodigy to Entertainment Icon
After that, her life moved quickly. While enrolled in high school she hosted a radio show and performed at night until she graduated, with honors, from Wadleigh High School. After graduation she made her Broadway debut in “Sing Out the News”. And it wasn’t long before her solo recordings were breaking records.
Despite her success she had to fight the imminent segregation of the time and decided to take a stance. Hazel refused to play for segregated audiences. She had it included in her contracts and was quoted as saying, “Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro, and refuse to sit by someone like me?”
In the 40s her career transitioned to include acting roles and she was featured in “I Dood It” with Lena Horne and “Rhapsody in Blue”.
It was during the 40s that Hazel began an affair with legendary politician Adam Clayton Powell. Initially she was annoyed by his interest but eventually he wore her down and although he was 12 years older than her, the two kept their affair a secret until they married in 1945. They would come to be known as the “it couple” in both white and black circles. She put her career on hold at the request of her husband and gave birth to their only child Adam Clayton Powell III. But eventually went back to touring when Powell moved to Washington.
In the midst of her duties as a wife and mother Hazel was offered the opportunity to host her own nationally syndicated television show. The first black performer to ever do so. But the show was cancelled shortly after when the government accused her of belonging to the Communist party.
Then her eleven year marriage ended amid career stress, jealousy and infidelity. Hazel took her son and moved to Paris. In Paris, Hazel fell in with other artists/ ex patriates like James Baldwin and Dizzy Gillespie. She continued her career in Paris for a decade before moving back to the states. She found that music had changed and tastes had shifted to the Motown sound. But Hazel still performed at small clubs, constantly exploring new sounds.
In 1981 she died of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind one of the most profound legacies for black female entertainers.
Watch the video below to see one of Hazel’s performances.