Alberta Hunter was an underrated blues singer who didn’t garner celebrity status until much later. She was considered the upmost consistent blues singer because she sung for practically the entire twentieth century and all throughout her retirement. This post will describe Alberta Hunters life and her legacy on the blues genre.
Alberta Hunter was Born on April 1, 1895 in Memphis Tennessee. Her father abandoned the family soon after her birth. Her mother remarried but Alberta Hunter wasn’t fond of her new family. She ran away around the age of 11 and got a boardinghouse job for $6 a week. She dressed older to sneak into clubs, where she asked for a chance to sing there as a singer. By 1915 she was singing at the Panama Café, this is where many leading blues singers performed as well.
Hunter relocated to New York City. For one of her jobs she traveled on the Keith-able Vaudeville circuit(this was a major chain). Hunters original song “Downhearted Blues” brought her recognition when it was covered by Bessie Smith. In 1926 she also replaced Bessie Smith on the Broadway Show “How Come.” She’s worked a lot of gigs since then and retired from active performing in 1954. She began a second career as a practical nurse. She completed 20 years of service before being forced to retire due to the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1972. (she was actually 82 because she lied about her age to keep working) Hunter made two recordings during her nursing career in 1961 and in 1962. After her retirement she made a comeback and performed at Cookery nightclub . Her comeback garnered her greater fame than in her earlier singing career. She gained celebrity status. She recorded for more albums during her greater fame.
Alberta Hunter early into her career.
“Downhearted Blues” was the song that blues singer Bessie Smith covered. This song along with Bessie Smiths cover of the song helped Alberta Hunter become known.
Alberta Hunter singing long after retirement
Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon for Outstanding Service
City of Memphis Award for her immense contributions to the blues
Handy Award as Traditional Female Artist of the Year
NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award
Alberta Hunter had a tremendous influence on the blues genre. Her career as a blue singer spanned through almost the entire twentieth century. At a young age she influenced greats such as Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker with her singing. Even blues great Bessie Smith decided to cover Alberta Hunters song. Hunter was not only a impeccable Blue singer she dominated the music writing scene as well and decided to push through ,while not only just sticking to her singing career, but a nursing career as well. She shows us that we don’t have to limit ourselves to one career but that we can choose to do whatever we desire. She went for her goals. Her hard work in blues and outside of it shines through.