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Hall, Adelaide (20 October 1901?–07 November 1993), vaudeville, musical theater, and jazz singer and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of William Hall, a Pennsylvania German music teacher at the Pratt Institute, and Elizabeth Gerrard, an African American. She made many jokes about her birth year; on her birthday in 1991 she declared that she was ninety years old, hence the conjectural 1901....

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McDaniel, Hattie (10 June 1895–26 October 1952), film actress and singer, was born in Wichita, Kansas, the daughter of Henry McDaniel, a Baptist minister, and Susan Holbert, and grew up in Denver, Colorado. Former slaves, her parents passed singing abilities along to Hattie and her siblings. During her early education, Hattie’s teachers allowed her to sing spirituals and other songs for her fellow students. In 1910 Hattie recited “Convict Joe” for the Denver Women’s Christian Temperance Union, winning a gold medal and a standing ovation. This success motivated Hattie to join her father and brother Otis—the two had formed a minstrel company—and become a full-time entertainer. She was dubbed by critics and audiences as a “jazz singer.”...

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Smith, Mamie (26 May 1883–30 October 1946?), blues and vaudeville singer and film actress, was born Mamie Robinson in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nothing is known of her parents. At the age of ten she toured with a white act, the Four Dancing Mitchells. She danced in J. Homer Tutt and Salem Tutt-Whitney’s The Smart Set Company in 1912 and then left the tour the next year to sing in Harlem clubs and theaters. Around this time she married William “Smitty” Smith, a singing waiter who died in 1928. At the Lincoln Theater in 1918 she starred in ...

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Ethel Waters Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92011).

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Waters, Ethel (31 October 1896–01 September 1977), blues singer and actress, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Louisa Tar Anderson and John Wesley Waters. Her birth resulted from the rape of her mother. Young Ethel was raised in poor neighborhoods in and around Philadelphia by her mother and grandmother, who worked as a laundress. Members of her family were amateur singers, and at the age of five, using the name Baby Star, Waters sang in public at a children’s performance in a Philadelphia church....