Honoring Hazel Scott

Posted on February 26, 2021


As a jazz head, I love learning the stories of the musicians I admire. I am forever indebted to DJs like Ed Love (WDET), Arwulf Arwulf (WCBN), Linda Yohn (WRCJ), Michael Jewett, Jessica Webster, Marc Taras, and Joe Tiboni (WEMU), for sharing the stories of musicians and the cultural history of jazz. I learn something every day, and I always want to learn more.

One jazz musician I hold in high esteem is Hazel Scott, who, when called to testify in the communist witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, stood strong on her principles.

When she stood in front of HUAC, it only made sense to speak truth to power, to stand up for what she believed in. She believed herself the embodiment of the American dream, and she spoke in its defense. In an unwavering voice she told the committee, “the entertainment profession has done its part for America, in war and peace, and it must not be dragged through the mud of hysterical name-calling at a moment when we need to enrich and project the American way of life to the world. There is no better, more effective, more easily understood medium for telling and selling the American way of life than our entertainers, creative artists, and performers, for they are the real voice of America.” (Lorissa Rinehart, “She Was Once the Biggest Star in Jazz. Here’s Why You’ve Never Heard of Her“)

In her beautiful video essay, Eve Goldberg tells Hazel’s heroic and heart-breaking story. Watch it here.

The Caisson Song scene, in which she refused to allow Black wives to send their men off to war wearing dirty aprons, is the scene in which she committed “career suicide,” by going on strike until her coworkers were given fine frocks to wear, in accord with the dignity of the occasion. Watching her play the last notes of the song and knowing how standing up for the dignity of Black workers would make her a target of white supremacist, Hollywood bosses, my heart aches for Hazel, for her family, for Black workers, and for the people of the world, who were cheated out of the infinite blessings of Hazel’s music so that rich white men could hold onto power. She was all class, and she was driven from America, like so many immensely talented, hard-working people, by white bigotry.

In this 1943 clip of “Jericho,” Lena Horne and Hazel Scott stun viewers with their beauty, strength, talent, and grace.

I’ve added Karen Chilton’s biography of Hazel Scott, The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC, to my Someday Book list, and I look forward to reading it and learning much more about the first Black woman to host her own television show and the times in which she lived.

As a final treat, listen to this breath-taking interpretation of the jazz standard, “Round Midnight,” as played by Hazel Scott, extraordinary woman, musician, and citizen. She gave the world so much love, so much beauty, and she deserved praise, honor, and respect. I am thankful for Hazel Scott. I honor her today.

Celebrating my 57th bday w/ son, Cale, on a socially distant hike

lisa eddy is a writer and editor for-hire, researcher,

educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy
On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com