Music / White Noise

Black HERstory Month: Alberta Hunter (1895-1984)

Alberta Hunter 1Alberta Hunter (1895-1984) was a Blues singer, songwriter and nurse. She was born in Memphis, Tennessee but left home for Chicago in her early teens where she got a job peeling potatoes to support herself. In the evenings, she would beg nightclub owners to let her to sing on their stages. She found a few gigs, but they were in the worst parts of the city, in clubs frequented by pimps and gangsters. Gradually, Hunter secured a well-paying headlining job at a prestigious club called Dreamland Cafe. Her next adventure led her to Europe where she performed in London and Paris. She enjoyed great success in Europe; Europeans adored her and she gained quite a following. In 1921 she moved to New York where she started making her rounds in the music industry joining Black Swan record label and later Paramount Records. Not only was Hunter a talented singer, she was also a gifted songwriter and it was she who actually penned fellow Blues great, Bessie Smith’s first hit record: “Downhearted Blues.” Hunter married early but never consummated the marriage. Her husband soon tired of her excuses for the lack of sex and left the marriage. Not long after, she met Lottie Williams and the two became lovers and stayed together for many years. Hunter went on to become the first African-American singer to be backed by a white band, starred in many music revues and recorded an incredible amount of successful records. At age 59, Hunter became a registered nurse and worked in a NYC hospital for twenty years. Not ever being able to get music out of her system, she began recording again in the 60s. In 1977, she delighted fans by returning to the stage at the age of 82. She performed for two more years before passing away in 1984.

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