Hazel Scott

Hazel Dorothy Scott (June 11, 1920 – October 2, 1981) was a Trinidadian-born jazz and classical pianist, singer and actor. She was an active and acclaimed performing artist from the 1930s till her death, and also portrayed herself in several films. As an outspoken critic of racial discrimination and segregation, she used her career and fame in the US to improve the representation of black Americans in film.[1]

Hazel Scott
Scott in the trailer for Rhapsody in Blue (1945).
Hazel Dorothy Scott

(1920-06-11)June 11, 1920
DiedOctober 2, 1981(1981-10-02) (aged 61)

Born in Port of Spain, Hazel was taken at the age of four by her mother to New York City. Recognized early as a musical prodigy, Scott was given scholarships from the age of eight to study at the Juilliard School. She began performing in a jazz band in her teens and was performing on radio at age 16.

She was prominent as a jazz singer throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1950, she became the first black American to host her own TV show, The Hazel Scott Show,[2]. Her career in America faltered after she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era. Scott subsequently moved to Paris in the late 1950s and began performing in Europe, not returning to the United States until 1967.

Early life

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on June 11, 1920,[3] Hazel Dorothy Scott was the only child of R. Thomas Scott, a West African scholar from Liverpool, England, and Alma Long Scott, a classically trained pianist, and music teacher. The family moved to New York City when Hazel was four, and by the age of eight she had been admitted to the Juilliard school to further her musical studies. [3] As a teenager, she performed on piano and trumpet with her mother's "Alma Long Scott" all-girl jazz band.[3]


By the age of 16, Hazel Scott regularly performed for radio programs for the Mutual Broadcasting System, gaining a reputation as the "hot classicist".[4] In the mid-1930s, she also performed at the Roseland Dance Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra. Her early musical theatre appearances in New York included the Cotton Club Revue of 1938, Sing Out the News and The Priorities of 1942.[4]

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Scott performed jazz, blues, ballads, Broadway and boogie-woogie songs, and classical music in various nightclubs. From 1939 to 1943 she was a leading attraction at both the downtown and uptown branches of Café Society. Her performances created national prestige for the practice of "swinging the classics."[5] By 1945, Scott was earning $75,000 ($1,043,762 today)[6] a year.[7]

In addition to Lena Horne, Scott was one of the first Afro-Caribbean women to garner respectable roles in major Hollywood pictures. She performed as herself in several features, notably I Dood It (MGM 1943), Broadway Rhythm (MGM 1944) with Lena Horne, in the otherwise all-white cast of The Heat's On (Columbia 1943), Something to Shout About (Columbia 1943), and Rhapsody in Blue (Warner Bros 1945). In the 1940s, in addition to her film appearances, she was featured in Café Society's From Bach to Boogie-Woogie concerts in 1941 and 1943 at Carnegie Hall.

She was the first person of African descent to have their own television show in America, The Hazel Scott Show, which premiered on the DuMont Television Network on July 3, 1950. Variety reported that "Hazel Scott has a neat little show in this modest package," its "most engaging element" being Scott herself.[2]


Scott had long been committed to civil rights, particularly in Hollywood. She refused to take roles in Hollywood that cast her as a "singing maid."[8] When she began performing in Hollywood films, she insisted on having final cut privileges when it came to her appearance. In addition, she required control over her own wardrobe so that she could wear her own clothing if she felt that the studio's choices were unacceptable. Her final break with Columbia Pictures' Harry Cohn involved "a costume which she felt stereotyped blacks."[9] Scott also refused to perform in segregated venues when she was on tour. She was once escorted from the city of Austin, Texas by Texas Rangers because she refused to perform when she discovered that black and white patrons were seated in separate areas. "Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro," she told Time Magazine, "and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?"[10]

In 1949, Scott brought a suit against the owners of a Pasco, Washington restaurant when a waitress refused to serve Scott and her traveling companion, Mrs. Eunice Wolfe, because "they were Negroes."[11] Scott's victory helped African Americans challenge racial discrimination in Spokane, as well as inspiring civil rights organizations "to pressure the Washington state legislature to enact the Public Accommodations Act" in 1953.[12]

With the advent of the Red Scare in the television industry, Scott's name appeared in Red Channels: A Report on Communist Influence in Radio and Television in June 1950. Scott voluntarily appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).[13] Scott insisted on reading a prepared statement before HUAC. She denied that she was "ever knowingly connected with the Communist Party or any of its front organizations," but said that she had supported Communist Party member Benjamin J. Davis's run for City Council, arguing that Davis was supported by socialists, a group that "has hated Communists longer and more fiercely than any other."[13] [14]

Her television variety program, The Hazel Scott Show, was cancelled a week after Scott appeared before HUAC, on September 29, 1950. Scott continued to perform in the United States and Europe, even getting sporadic bookings on television variety shows like Cavalcade of Stars and guest starring in an episode of CBS Television's Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town musical series. Scott's short-lived television show "provided a glimmer of hope for African American viewers"[12] during a time of continued racial bias in the broadcasting industry and economic hardships for jazz musicians in general. Scott remained publicly opposed to McCarthyism and racial segregation throughout her career.

To evade political fallout in the United States, Scott moved to Paris in the late 1950s. She appeared in the French film Le désordre et la nuit (1958). In 1963, she marched with a number of other African-American expatriates, including James Baldwin, to the US Embassy in Paris to demonstrate support of the upcoming March on Washington.[1] She did not return to the US until 1967. By this time the Civil Rights Movement had led to federal legislation ending racial segregation and enforcing the protection of voting rights of all citizens in addition to other social advances.

Scott continued to play occasionally in nightclubs, while also appearing in daytime television until the year of her death. She made her television acting debut in 1973, on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live, performing a wedding song at the nuptials of her "onscreen cousin" Carla Gray Hall, portrayed by Ellen Holly.

Personal life

In 1945, Scott married Baptist minister and US Congressman Adam Clayton Powell.[7] They had one child, Adam Clayton Powell III, but divorced in 1960 after a separation. Their relationship provoked controversy, as Powell was married when their affair began.[2]

On January 19, 1961, she married Ezio Bedin, a Swiss-born comedian.[15]


On October 2, 1981, Hazel Scott died of cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. She was 61 years old and survived by her son Adam Clayton Powell III. She was buried at Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, near other musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, and Dizzy Gillespie (who died in 1993).[16]


Scott was most highly renowned as a virtuosic jazz pianist, in addition to her successes in dramatic acting and classical music. She also used her status as one of the most well-known African American entertainers of her generation to shine a spotlight on issues of racial injustice and civil rights.

Scott recorded as the leader of various groups for Decca, Columbia and Signature, among them, a trio that consisted of Bill English and the double bass player Martin Rivera, and another Charles Mingus on bass and Rudie Nichols on drums. Her album Relaxed Piano Moods on the Debut Record label, with Mingus and Max Roach, is generally her work most highly regarded by critics today. Her unique swinging style and fusion of jazz and classical influences kept her in demand for performances through the very end of her life.[16]

Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys cited Scott as her inspiration for her performance at the 61st Grammy Awards, saying : "I've being thinking about people who inspire me; shout out to Hazel Scott, I've always wanted to play two pianos.".

Selected discography

  • Swinging the Classics: Piano Solos in Swing Style with Drums (Decca #A-212 [78rpm 3-disc album set], 1941)
  • Her Second Album of Piano Solos with Drums Acc. (Decca #A-321 [78rpm 3-disc album set], 1942)
  • A Piano Recital (Signature #S-1 [78rpm 4-disc album set], 1946)
  • Great Scott! (Columbia #C-159 [78rpm 4-disc album set], 1948; Columbia #CL-6090 [10" LP], 1950)
  • Two Toned Piano Recital (Coral #CRL-56057 [10" LP], 1952)
  • Hazel Scott's Late Show (Capitol #H-364 [10" LP], 1953)
  • Relaxed Piano Moods (Debut #DLP-16 [10" LP], 1955)
  • 'Round Midnight (Decca #DL-8474, 1957)
  • Always (Image Records #IM-307, 1979)
  • After Hours (Tioch Digital Records #TD-1013, 1983)


  1. Mack, Dwayne (2006). "Hazel Scott: A Career Curtailed". The Journal of African American History. 91 (2): 153–170. ISSN 1548-1867.
  2. Chilton, Karen (October 15, 2009). "Hazel Scott's Lifetime of High Notes". smithsonian.com. Smithsonian. Retrieved November 30, 2016. ...the first black performer to host her own nationally syndicated television show... [bolding added]
  3. Walker-Hill, Helen (1992). Piano Music by Black Women Composers: A Catalog of Solo and Ensemble Works. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-313-28141-6.
  4. "Hot Classicist", Time Magazine, October 5, 1941.
  5. McGee, Kristin (2009). "Swinging the Classics", in Some Liked it Hot: Jazz Women in Film and Television, 1929–1959 (Wesleyan University Press: 113–133).
  6. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  7. "Powell Weds Scott". Life. August 13, 1945. p. 30. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
  8. Chilton 2008, p. 73.
  9. Chilton 2008, p. 125.
  10. Chilton 2008, p. 138.
  11. "Pianist, Husband Sue Cafe Owners". Spokane Daily Chronicle. February 17, 1949.
  12. Mack, Dwayne (Spring 2006). "Hazel Scott: A Career Curtailed". Journal of African American History. 91 (2): 160.
  13. United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities. (1951). Testimony of Hazel Scott Powell: hearing before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eighty-first Congress, second session, September 22, 1950. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1951.
  14. "Testimony of Hazel Scott Powell". Hearing Before the Committee on Un-American Activities. September 22, 1950.
  15. "Milestones: Feb. 3, 1961: Marriage Revealed.", Time Magazine, February 3, 1961, accessed October 19, 2011.
  16. Ledbetter, Les (October 3, 1981). "Hazel Scott, 61, Jazz Pianist, Acted In Films, On Broadway". New York Times. Retrieved June 18, 2008. Hazel Scott, the pianist, and singer who was once married to the late Adam Clayton Powell Jr., died of cancer yesterday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 61 years old.


  • "Bye-Bye Boogie: Hazel Scott leaves night clubs and moves to concert stage." Ebony, November 1945: 31–34.
  • "Café Society Concert." Time Magazine, May 5, 1941.
  • "Hazel Scott is Queen Once More in Warner's 'Rhapsody in Blue'", Chicago Defender, September 1, 1945: 14.
  • McAfee, J., Jr., "Scott, Hazel", CBY 1943 Obituary, JSN, ii/4 (1982), 19.
  • Bogle, Donald. 2001. "The Hazel Scott Show", in Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 15–19.
  • Chilton, Karen (2008). Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC. University of Michigan Press.
  • Feather, Leonard. "Swinging the Classics," The New York Times',' May 18, 1941: X5.
  • McGee, Kristin. "Swinging the Classics: Hazel Scott and Hollywood's Musical-Racial Matrix," in Some Liked it Hot: Jazz Women in Film and Television, 1928–1959 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press 2009) 113–133.
  • Myter-Spencer, D.: "Hazel Scott, Jazz Pianist: Boogie-woogie and Beyond," Jazz Research Papers, x (1990), 75.
  • Reed, Bill. 1998. "The Movies: Hazel Scott", in Hot From Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment, Los Angeles: Cellar Door Press, pp. 110–128.
  • Taubman, E. 1941. "Café Music Heard at Carnegie Hall", The New York Times, April 24, 1941: 24.
  • Taubman, E. 1943. "Swing feature Soviet Benefit: Café Society assures at least a thousand watches for the Russian Fighting Forces," The New York Times, April 12, 1943: 28.
  • Taylor, A. "Hazel Scott", Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews (Liège, Belgium, 1977, rev. and enlarged February 1993).
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