Women’s History Month Kick-Off
by Brianna Rae
Beginning as International Women’s Day in 1911 and eventually becoming Women’s History Week by 1982, the designation of March as Women’s History Month became nationally recognized in 1987. Since then, it has continued its legacy of bringing the focus on women’s immense contributions to culture and society from margin to center. We are excited to dedicate this page to celebrate and honor women’s rich and diverse history and influence throughout the month of March.
Hazel Dorothy Scott, Jazz singer, classical pianist, and television host, was born on June 11, 1920 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
By the age of four her family had moved to New York, where she was discovered to be a musical prodigy and was given, by the age of eight, a scholarship to the world-class prestigious Juilliard School of Music. By her teens, she was performing with her mother’s all-female Jazz band and regularly performed on the radio.
Throughout the 1930s and 40s, she played the night-club circuit, performed with the Count Basie Orchestra and became a nationally recognized figure, earning nearly one million dollars per year (adjusted to today’s currency) by 1945.
Scott was one of the first Afro-Caribbean women to portray respectable roles in major Hollywood films, often portraying herself. She was also the first Afro-Caribbean to host her own television show, a variety program called The Hazel Scott Show. Debuting on July 3, 1950, the show was received well, but was cancelled by September of 1950 after she appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the Red Scare.
A pioneer of racial activism pre-dating the Civil Rights Movement, Scott was an outspoken advocate for racial justice. She refused to take “maid” roles in Hollywood, insisted on having control over her wardrobe and final cuts, and refused to perform in segregated venues.
In 1945, Scott controversially married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a Baptist minister and U.S. Congressman while he was still married. They divorced in 1960 and had one child, Adam Clayton Powell III. Scott moved to Paris in the late 1950s to avoid political threats, returning to the United States in 1967. She continued to perform in nightclubs and on daytime TV in the 1970s. She died on October 2, 1981 of cancer.
Jazz vocalist, songwriter, and actress Abbey Lincoln was born on August 6, 1930 as Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago, IL. She grew up on a farm in Michigan with her eleven siblings, playing piano and listening to Billie Holiday. Lincoln began writing and performing her own material, and by the age of 22, had moved out to California. A couple years later in 1956, she debuted her first album, Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl In Love. That same year, she appeared in her first film, The Girl Can’t Help It.
She then moved to New York, where she met drummer and bebop innovator Max Roach, who introduced her to the New York Jazz elite and would help to spark Lincoln’s social and political involvement.
They began collaborating throughout the 1950s and 60s, and by 1962, Lincoln and Roach were married. In 1960, they recorded what is known as Roach’s masterpiece, We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, regarded as a landmark Civil Rights recording. Lincoln’s own lyrics often and unapologetically dealt with racial issues.
In the 1960s, she appeared in Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man (1964) and co-starred with Sidney Poitier in For Love of Ivy (1968), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. She also appeared in Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo’ Better Blues.
By 1970, Lincoln had divorced Roach, and continued to record, immerse herself in art, move back to California, and travel throughout Africa, after which she adopted the name Animata Moseka. By the 1990s, she had produced several more recordings that won her newfound critical and commercial success, and by 2003 she had received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award. Lincoln passed away on August 14, 2010.