"Woman of the World"
1895 - 1984
Down Hearted Blues
All Alberta Hunter wanted from life was to make $6 a week singing in Chicago. Tiny, homely and dirt poor at 14, she took advantage of a free train ticket from Memphis to Chicago, knowing no one there except the daughter of her mother's friend for whom she had no address. Her indomitable spirit, which would lead her to become an international star, shattering race, gender and age barriers her entire life, carried her fearlessly forward on that train.
By some fortunate twist of fate, she got off the streetcar right in front of the building in which her one Chicago contact, Ellen Winston, lived. Ellen secured her a job peeling potatoes in a boarding house and a place to sleep. But sleep wasn't what young Alberta was after: night after night she'd prowl the streets trying to gain entry into anywhere the music was. And in 1910 music was cascading out of every doorway. A new sound was migrating north from New Orleans, syncopated, rapid, inventive, joyous. Alberta managed to finally get a slot singing at a run-down joint called Dago Frank's. She says the prostitutes liked her because she was no competition, the johns felt sorry for her, and the tips inspired her to keep learning new songs, strengthen her voice (no microphones back then) and develop her own winning persona and style. Early on she grasped that every song had a message, and with her warm personality, hand on one hip, expressive face, and throaty, velvety voice, she delivered that message to a growing audience.
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