The Thinking About Jazz (TAJ) program for June, sponsored by the Southwest Renaissance Development Corporation (SRDC), will be held on Saturday, June 28 at Westminster Church from 1:00 – 3:00 pm. This program examines two extraordinary women in jazz: pianist, vocalist, and composer Lillian (Lil) Hardin, and classical and jazz musician and vocalist Hazel Scott.

Lil Hardin was born in Memphis, TN on Feb 3, 1898.  Like most of her contemporaries, she was increasingly drawn to the emerging popular and swing music. Her deeply religious mother, as did many others, considered this music to be the “devil’s music.” Nonetheless, Hardin’s mother permitted her to learn how to play the piano and she eventually studied music at Fisk University. In 1918, Hardin moved to Chicago with her mother and stepfather where she was hired to demonstrate how to play the piano while reading sheet music at Jones Music Store. Other musicians who played there took an interest in Hardin and had an impact on her musicianship, even encouraging her to add her own musical compositions to her demonstrations. After touring with local bandleaders Lawrence Duhe and King Oliver, Hardin returned to Chicago. When Oliver brought Louis Armstrong to Chicago, Armstrong and Hardin met, developed a relationship, and married in 1924. Although Hardin and Armstrong both were subjected to racial discrimination, his career began to eclipse hers, not because of talent but because she was both black and female. Although they divorced in 1931, their lives continued to be intertwined. Shaken by Armstrong’s death in 1971, she died several months later after collapsing during a performance.

Hazel Scott was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago where her mother Alma was a musician and her father was a noted local scholar. When Scott was four years old, the family moved to New York City where she was soon recognized as a child musical prodigy and received scholarships to study piano and trumpet at Julliard. While still a teenager, Scott performed with her mother’s all girl jazz band, which, ironically, occasionally featured pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong. Scott had a diverse career in live performance, performing with various bands, in theaters, on the radio, and in Hollywood movies. Scott and Lena Horne were the first two African Americans performers to appear in major Hollywood movies, in which she performed as herself. In addition, she was the first African American woman to have her own television show on a major network. In 1945, Scott married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., then a well-known Baptist Minister in Harlem who would later become the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and one of its most powerful and controversial members. Scott was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, refusing to appear in segregated venues or to appear in films that might stereotype her.

Eventually, Scott’s high profile as a civil rights advocate and marriage to Congressman Powell drew the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A week after her testimony, her television show was cancelled and she eventually moved to France where she continued to perform. She divorced Adam Clayton Powell, remarried, and returned to the United States. This extraordinary pianist and vocalist, who first achieved fame appearing at Cafe Society in New York City where she popularized what became known as “third stream” jazz (the fusing of classical music and jazz), had survived an “impossible” marriage to Powell and HUAC’s scrutiny and continued to perform live and on television. Hazel Scott died of cancer in New York City on Oct 2, 1981 at age 61.

SRDC sponsors these programs bi-monthly as part of its Jazz Night initiative at Westminster Church,located at 400 I St. SW. Parking is available in the church lot and on the street. A light lunch will be served and several door prizes will be awarded. Admission is free.

By: Brian Hamilton

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