Faces of the Harlem Renaissance

Adelaide Hall

1901-1993 / Actress, singer, dancer

In 1921, an unheralded teenager named Adelaide Hall appeared as just another hoofer in the chorus line for the musical Shuffle Along. A scant seven years later, her role in the Broadway revue Blackbirds of 1928 (the most famous of the series of Blackbirds revues mounted during the 1920s and 30s) brought her international fame.

Hall's stage performance in that production—in which the newcomer performed alongside a legend, tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson—attracted international media attention. It also launched the song "I Can't Give You Anything But Love"—just one of the many beloved tunes that members of the public would come to associate with Adelaide Hall.

The singer also earned renown for her innovative phrasings. Her wordless singing on Duke Ellington's recording of "Creole Love Call" prefigured the scat singing later made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. (In scat singing—sometimes called mouth music—the voice is used to mimic various jazz instruments, notably the trumpet, trombone, and saxophone.) Hall went on to perform regularly with jazz greats such as Art Tatum and Fats Waller.

Hall performed at venues throughout the United States and Europe before settling in Britain. She established her own nightclubs in London and Paris, and continued to perform in European nightspots for more than 50 years.