An Evening with Hazel Scott, Sept. 28!

Hazel Scott in a black and white publicity photo, wearing a black dress, seated at the edge of a white piano

Hazel Scott, intense and assured, in an undated publicity shot. Photo: Unknown. Prints and Photographs Division.

This is a guest post by Anne McLean, a music specialist in the Music Division.

On Sept. 28  — that’s Wednesday — the Music Division partners with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Washington Performing Arts to present a special event saluting a pathbreaking Black artist: “Celebrating Hazel Scott: Pianist, Singer, Actress and Activist.”

The evening offers a display from the Library’s Hazel Scott collection and a sneak-peek excerpt from a new ballet created to honor her, “Sounds of Hazel.” Dance Theatre of Harlem company member Daphne Marcelle Lee will perform a brief segment to a recording by Scott herself. Biographer Karen Chilton will moderate a discussion on Scott’s life and legacy with choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher; Virginia Johnson, artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem; Adam Clayton Powell III, Scott’s son; and Music Division archivist Janet McKinney. The event is free but we ask that you do register to attend.

A prodigiously talented jazz and classical pianist, Scott was a glamorous figure, fluent in seven languages, and a brilliant star on stage and screen in the 1940s and early 1950s. As this blog noted  it in the January–February issue of LCM, “Hazel Scott was the gorgeous face of jazz at the midcentury.”

She was featured in several Hollywood films, always appearing as herself, a bandleader and formidable pianist, performing virtuosic sets that often juxtaposed classical music and jazz. You can see her tour-de-force turn in the 1943 film “The Heat’s On,” where she plays on two pianos simultaneously while whirling between them on a swiveling stool — a feat to which Alicia Keys paid homage at the 2019 Grammy awards.

Scott’s circle of friends included legendary pianists Fats Waller and Art Tatum — she regarded both as family members — as well as many artists who are icons today: Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Leonard Bernstein and Dizzy Gillespie, among others.

Black and white photo of Hazel Scott and Lena Horne at a club, well-dresssed and sitting at a table

Hazel Scott and Lena Horne, longtime friends, at a night spot in New York. Prints and Photographs Division.

Scott’s marriage to Harlem congressman and minister Adam Clayton Powell Jr. brought her wider fame and heightened visibility as an influential civil rights activist. In 1950, addressing insinuations of Communist sympathies, she insisted on giving testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee; it was a stance that would cause the cancellation of her new television program, The Hazel Scott Show, and damage an extraordinary career.

The Library’s Scott event starts in the Whittall Pavilion at 5:45 p.m. with a display of treasures from the Scott collection, drawn from nearly 4,000 items, including music, photographs, letters, datebooks and diaries.

At 7 p.m., a short documentary will follow the creative team behind “Sounds of Hazel,” including choreographer Rea-Fisher and composer Erica Lewis-Blunt. Daphne Lee will perform a solo from the ballet set to Scott’s scintillating performance of Frédéric Chopin’s “Minute Waltz,” from the film “Broadway Rhythm.

“Hazel Scott was a diva with a capital ‘D,’ ” Rea-Fisher said, “but she was also super-grounded. She was not afraid to be raw and rough while also being glamorous.”

Because of her audacious nature, Rea-Fisher added, Scott was erased from history. “So, [celebrating] her for all that she is and was is really super, super exciting.”

Capping off the evening, pianist Janelle Gill will play Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” in a nod to Scott’s classical performances and her own composition “Give Thanks” with bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Lenny Robinson.

Ada Limón, the Nation’s New Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today announced that Ada Limon will serve as the nation’s 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2022-2023. She is the author of six poetry collections and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Mississippi Author Jesmyn Ward: Winner of the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today that the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction will be awarded to Jesmyn Ward. The 45-year-old Mississippian is the two-time winner of the National Book Award for the novels “Salvage the Bones” and “Sing, Unburied, Sing” among other major literary awards.

Researcher Story: U.S. Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, First Woman of Color in Congress

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and Gwendolyn Mink co-wrote “Fierce and Fearless: Patsy Takemoto Mink, First Woman of Color in Congress,” published this month. They researched the book, a biography of the first woman of color in the U.S. Congress, at the Library.

Researcher Story: Elizabeth D. Leonard

Civil War historian Elizabeth Leonard has written a number of books about the role of women on the battlefield and the social and political reverberations of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. She’s researched those books, including her soon-to-be-published title, “Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life,” in the Library’s Manuscript Division. 

Madeleine Albright: A Life of Courage and Commitment

Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, died today in Washington at the age of 84. The cause was cancer, her family said.. Albright, who donated her papers to the Library in 2014, was a key figure in the administration of Bill Clinton, serving both as ambassador to the United Nations and then as Secretary of State during his second term. Outspoken to the end, she wrote an essay for the New York Times in late February warning about the effects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. She included her notes from her first meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, more than two decades ago: “Putin is small and pale…so cold as to be almost reptilian.”

Women’s History Month: Genealogy

During Women’s History Month, it’s good to remember that specialists in the Library’s Local History and Genealogy Section collaborate with researchers to help find female ancestors, who are often obscured in historical records. A video presentation offers help in tracking down female ancestors whose last name changed due to marriage, or whose names did not appear on home ownership and other records.