American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 67

Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter was one of the dozens of blues singers who flourished in black nightclubs and vaudeville of the 1920s.  She ensured her professional survival by meeting every era and each circumstance realistically and fearlessly.  She became a songwriter whose compositions spanned decades from “Downhearted Blues,” Bessie Smith’s first hit recording, to a film score for a 1980s Robert Altman film.

For much of the 1930s Alberta, smartly gowned and styled, played the cabarets of London and the Continent and appeared in musical theatre, most notably opposite Paul Robeson in the London production of Show Boat.  The 1940s and early 1950s found Alberta in a U.S. Army uniform heading the first “Negro” USO entertainment unit overseas.  She performed for troops throughout Asia in both World War II and the Korean Conflict.

At age 59 and the end of further opportunity, she retired, trained for nursing and worked as an RN until 1977 when she retired again.  A few months later she made a most memorable comeback, appearing in nightclubs and making records until her death at age 89.  Until her last breath and performance, she was sharp as a tack and her voice snapped and growled its way through the lyrics and music, telling salty tales of love won and discarded.