Urban One Honors w/ Mary J. Blige
Praise 104.1
Hazel Scott Singing at Mulzac Dinner

Source: Joe Schwartz Photo Archive / Getty

Trailblazing pianist and songstress Hazel Scott definitively shaped the arts; using her distinctive talent and creativity to elevate the genre of jazz. The Dance Theatre of Harlem is paying homage to her unsung legacy through a new production dubbed Sounds of Hazel.

From an early age, it was evident that Scott—who was born in Trinidad and raised in Harlem—was musically gifted. Inspired by her mother Alma Long Scott—who was a classically trained saxophonist and pianist—she developed a passion for playing the piano. At 3 years old she knew how to play by ear and at the age of 8 received a scholarship to study at the prestigious Juilliard School. During her teenage years, she toured New York City with her mother’s jazz band and later made her solo debut at the Roseland Ballroom. Scott’s ability to put a jazz twist on classical songs captivated crowds at New York City’s hot spots and she began to generate buzz.

She later expanded her career beyond music and ventured into acting. Aware of the racism that permeated Hollywood, Scott boldly denounced prejudice and was intentional about the projects she took on. She turned down the first few film roles she was offered as she was asked to portray singing maids, refused to play at segregated venues, and was an advocate for equal pay. She made history in 1950 as the first Black woman to have her own television show and although the project earned good ratings, it was later canceled due to speculatory communist ties. Scott was ostracized from the entertainment industry for using her platform to spread awareness about injustice and most of her trailblazing accomplishments have been enshrouded. The Dance Theatre of Harlem is on a mission to amplify her artistry and activism.

Sounds of Hazel delves into different chapters of the visionary’s journey; merging ballet, hip-hop, swing and Afro-Caribbean dance forms to bring her story to life. Scott’s piano recordings and a rare interview are intertwined into the production. Sounds of Hazel was created by a collective of Black women including choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher, artistic director Virginia Johnson, and composer Erica Lewis-Blunt.

“Hazel Scott was a diva with a capital ‘D,’ but she was also super-grounded,” Rea-Fisher shared in a statement. “She was not afraid to be raw and rough while also being glamorous. Her erasure from history was intentional because she was so audacious. People actively tried to erase her. To be able to not only not erase her but celebrate her for all that she is and was is really exciting.” Sounds of Hazel will make tour stops in Charleston on Oct. 20 and Seattle on Nov. 5. The show will come to New York and Massachusetts in 2023.

In recent years, creators inspired by Scott’s work have innovatively celebrated her legacy. During the 2019 Grammys, Alicia Keys played two pianos on stage, mirroring a performance by Scott in the 1943 film The Heat’s On.


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