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Alberta Hunter
Alberta Hunter in 1979
Hunter in 1979
Background information
Birth name Alberta Hunter
Also known as May Alix
Josephine Beatty
Born (1895-04-01)April 1, 1895
Memphis, Tennessee U.S.
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Died October 17, 1984(1984-10-17) (aged 89)
Roosevelt Island, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Singer
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1914–84
Labels Black Swan
Associated acts Bessie Smith
Ethel Waters
Billie Holiday

Alberta Hunter (April 1, 1895 – October 17, 1984) was an internationally known African-American jazz singer and songwriter who had a successful career from the early 1920s to the late 1950s (she was a contemporary of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith) and then stopped performing. After 20 years of working as a nurse, in 1977 Hunter successfully resumed her popular singing career until her death.

Early life

Hunter was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Laura Peterson, who worked as a maid in Memphis, and Charles Hunter, a Pullman porter. Hunter said she never knew her father. She attended Grant Elementary School, off Auction Street, which she called Auction School, in Memphis. She attended school until around age 15.

Hunter had a difficult childhood. Her father left when she was a child, and to support the family her mother worked as a servant in Memphis, although she married again in 1906. Hunter was not happy with her new family and left for Chicago, Illinois, around the age of 11, in the hopes of becoming a paid singer; she had heard that it paid 10 dollars an hour. Instead of finding a job as a singer she had to earn money by working at a boardinghouse that paid six dollars a week as well as room and board. Hunter's mother left Memphis and moved in with her soon afterwards.

Personal life

In 1919, Hunter married Willard Saxby Townsend, a former soldier who later became a labor leader for baggage handlers via the International Brotherhood of Red Caps, was short-lived. They separated within months, as Hunter did not want to quit her career—and officially divorced in 1923.

Hunter was a lesbian, though she kept her sexuality relatively private. In August 1927, she sailed for France, accompanied by Lottie Tyler, the niece of well known comedian Bert Williams. Hunter and Tyler had met in Chicago a few years earlier. Their relationship lasted until Ms. Tyler's death, many years later.

Hunter is buried in the Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum located in Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York (Elmwood section; plot 1411), the location of many celebrity burials.

Hunter's life was documented in Alberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin' (1988 TV movie), a documentary written by Chris Albertson and narrated by the pianist Billy Taylor, and in Cookin' at the Cookery, a biographical musical by Marion J. Caffey, which has toured the United States in recent years with Ernestine Jackson as Hunter.

Hunter was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015. Hunter's comeback album, Amtrak Blues, was honored by the Blues Hall of Fame in 2009.


Early work: 1921–46

  • Hunter, Alberta. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. Volume 1: May 1921 to February 1923. Vienna, Austria: Document Records, 1996. DOCD-5422. .
    • Featuring Fletcher Henderson, Eubie Blake, Jimmy Lytell, Phil Napoleon, Elmer Chambers, Don Redman, Frank Signorelli
  • Hunter, Alberta. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. Volume 2: February 1923 to November 1924. Vienna, Austria: Document Records, 1996. DOCD-5423. .
    • Featuring Fletcher Henderson, Joe Smith, Fats Waller, Tommy Ladnier, Jimmy O'Bryant, Lovie Austin, Elkins-Payne Jubilee Quartette
  • Hunter, Alberta. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. Volume 3: 6 November 1924 to 26 February 1927. Vienna, Austria: Document Records, 1996. DOCD-5424. .
    • Featuring Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Buster Bailey, Charlie Irvis, Perry Bradford, Clarence Williams, Mike Jackson
  • Hunter, Alberta. Volume 5: The Alternate Takes. 1921–1925. Vienna, Austria: Document Records, 1997. DOCD-1006. .
    • Featuring Ray's Dreamland Orchestra, Eubie Blake, Original Memphis Five, Fletcher Henderson, Paramount Boys, Lovie Austin
  • Hunter, Alberta, and Jack Jackson. The Legendary Alberta Hunter. The London Sessions with Jack Jackson & His Orchestra. New York: DRG, 1981. Recorded at the Dorchester Hotel, September–November 1934. .

Collaborations: 1961

  • 1961: Chicago: The Living Legends. Alberta Hunter with Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders (Riverside), recorded September 1, 1961, in Chicago.
  • 1961: Songs We Taught Your Mother: Alberta Hunter, Lucille Hegamin, Victoria Spivey (Bluesville/Original Blues Classics), recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on August 16, 1961, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Comeback: 1978–83

  • 1978: Remember My Name, the original soundtrack recording of the Robert Altman film Remember My Name, (Columbia),
  • 1980: Amtrak Blues (Columbia),
  • 1981: Downhearted Blues: Live at the Cookery, a concert from the documentary Alberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin, recorded in December 1981 at The Cookery, New York (Varèse Sarabande),
  • 1982: The Glory of Alberta Hunter (Columbia)
  • 1983: Look for the Silver Lining (Columbia)



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