Friday, June 11th would have been the late, great Hazel Scott’s 90th birthday. A child prodigy who learned the piano by ear at age 3 and was allowed to enroll in the Juillard School of Music at age 8 (16 was normally the minimum age!), Scott was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago and raised in New York City. By the time she was a teenager a she was hosting a radio show on WOR; by her 21st birthday, she’d made her Broadway debut in SING OUT THE NEWS.
Along with her contemporary Lena Horne, Hazel Scott refused to perform for segregated audiences. It was only the start of a lifetime of activism for the jazz legend, who continued to stand up for Civil Rights when Hollywood came calling in 1942. Hazel Scott entered the film world on her terms: she turned down the stereotypical and subservient roles Tinseltown was offering. Insisting on playing and being billed as herself, the outspoken pianist soon had a reputation for "being difficult" that (along with her 1945 marriage) shortened her film career. Scott's very accurate protest regarding wardrobe in 1943's THE HEAT’S ON proved particularly damaging.
But the courageous stand taken by Hazel Scott unquestionably helped pave the way for the greater opportunities black actresses would receive in the decades that followed. She would appear in only five features before returning to recordings and concerts full time: SOMETHING TO SHOUT ABOUT, I DOOD IT and THE HEAT'S ON (with Mae West) in 1943; BROADWAY RHYTHM (1944) and in perhaps her most memorable appearance, RHAPSODY IN BLUE (1945).
The clip at the top is from a later TV appearance in 1955, with Hazel Scott supported by legendary bassist Charlie Mingus and Rudy Nichols and singing in English AND French (just two of her seven languages) for the March of Dimes. Do yourself a favor: don’t stop with that highlight, or the other two clips from Ms. Scott's films linked above. Go to YouTube and check out more of Hazel Scott. For example, this terrific clip from 1943: