Hazel Scott was a child musical prodigy born in Trinidad who won a scholarship to study at Juilliard when she was 8.
She rose to prominence as a jazz singer in the 1930s and 1940s. And was one of the first Black women to garner respectable roles in major Hollywood pictures alongside otherwise all-white casts.
She was also the first Black person to have their own television show in America.
And all of that is impressive but I’m featuring her because she was just badass. She showed up in a massive way. Unprecedented in her time.
Let me give some examples. Like the quote said, she refused to take up roles that played into Black stereotypes. She was no one’s singing Black maid.
She insisted on having final cut-privileges for her appearances. She even insisted on controls over her wardrobe so she could wear her own clothing if the studio’s choices were unacceptable.
She refused to perform in segregated venues saying “Why would anyone come to hear me a Negro and refuse to sit by someone just like me?”.
She also sued the owners of a restaurant who in 1949 refused to serve her and her travelling companion because they were Black. I respect that energy.
Her TV show was a glimmer of hope for Black people in a time of racial bias in the industry, but sadly it was short-lived.
Hazel Scott was named in the Red Channels report in 1950 that named 151 actors, writers, musicians and journalists as communists. To defend herself she appeared before the government to clear her name. It had the opposite effect and her programme was cancelled.
She left the US and moved to Paris continuing her career and fighting against racial segregation and for civil rights for her entire life.
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