Hazel Scott was born in 1920 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and moved to New York with her mother at age 4. Her family soon recognized she was a prodigy and, at age 8, she began training with a Juilliard professor.
“Prof. Paul Wagner of the Juilliard School of Music was the first American artist to recognize young Hazel Scott. ”I am in the presence of a genius,” he said when she finished playing Rachmaninoff’s ”Prelude” for him at an audition. He immediately began teaching her himself when the school ruled that she was to young to enter.”
At 18, Scott appeared on Broadway in Sing Out the News and soon transitioned to Hollywood, where she was one of the first black women to receive high profile film roles, including in I Dood It (1943), Broadway Rhythm (1944), The Heat’s On (1943), Something to Shout About (1943), and Rhapsody in Blue (1945).
She was the first Afro-Caribbean to have her own television show, The Hazel Scott Show, which premiered in July 1950.
Scott was also a vocal advocate for civil rights.
She refused to take roles in Hollywood that cast her as a “singing maid”. 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”. 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?”
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.” 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.
Scott’s career took a hit when she was suspected of sympathizing with Communists. Her show was canceled a week after she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in September 1950. She moved to Europe in the late 1950s, but returned to America in 1967 where she performed up until her death in 1981.
One of her many musical talents was playing two pianos at once, an incredible feat you can watch below.
Ladies, did you know about Hazel Scott?