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The Kid Should See This

The great Hazel Scott, jazz’s unsung artist-activist

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“If you’ve been on social media these past few years, you might have seen a video of Hazel Scott, without knowing it was Hazel Scott.

“In the clip, she sits poised between two pianos β€” one white, one black β€” the back of her spotless white gown showing off a boldly deep V-cut. She captivatingly plays those pianos simultaneously. Her fingers perform fox trots and quicksteps across the keys, showcasing just some of what made her a thrilling performer. But there is more to Scott than that one stunning display of her skills…”

Who was Hazel Scott? And, as this Jazz Night in America video asks: Unlike mentors and contemporaries such as Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, “why is Scott likely unfamiliar to the casual jazz fan?”

Hazel Scott
Hazel Scott, a Juilliard-educated child prodigy and jazz virtuoso who, in 1950, became the first Black person to host a television show, fearlessly challenged racial segregation and McCarthy-era oppression, leaving behind a legacy of artistic brilliance and unwavering advocacy for civil rights.

“She refused to portray stereotypical or demeaning roles, instead appearing as herself…”

Hazel Scott with her entourage in a movie

“She refused to play for segregated audiences; if a venue lacked integration, she would walk out without hesitation.

“Notably, she was barred from performing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the same organization that had barred renowned singer Marian Anderson from singing at the venue.

“During the filming of the 1943 film ‘The Heat’s On,’ she objected to stained costumes intended for her fellow Black actresses, who were given dirty Hoover aprons. Refusing to shoot under such conditions, she went on strike, and the cameras remained idle for three days.”

Via Smithsonian Magazine, she correctly complained that “no woman would see her sweetheart off to war wearing a dirty apron.”

From Columbia Pictures/Sony
Her career paid the price for her principled stands, especially after she was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Weeks after her voluntary testimony, “The Hazel Scott Show was canceled, and concert bookings became few and far between.”

Ostracized by the industry, she moved to Paris, where she became a celebrated fixture in the city’s flourishing Black expatriate community, before returning to America a decade later.

Hazel Scott
And though “her name was all but erased from the history books,” she stood by her decisions, saying in 1978:

“I’ve been brash all my life and it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, but at the same time, speaking out has sustained me and given meaning to my life.”

Learn more about her incredible career and character in Jazz Night in America’s ‘Hello there, I’m Hazel Scott’: Jazz’s unsung artist-activist.

Hazel Scott

And ICYMI: Hazel Scott plays Black & White on two grand pianos (1943).


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