The Faces of the African American National Biography
Courtesy of Photofest.
One of the great, though underappreciated, blues and jazz performers of the twentieth century, Alberta Hunter's career spanned nearly seventy years, starting at the age of fifteen and lasting through a comeback at the age of seventy-seven that allowed her to continue performing and recording music until her death in 1984. Known in part for writing sexually risque songs, Hunter composed for and performed with the greatest popular performers and jazz and blues musicians of her age, including Bessie Smith, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, to name just a few. She performed for U.S. troops during both World War II and the Korean War, but stopped performing soon after her mother's death in 1954. After her mother's death, Hunter spent the next twenty years as a nurse in New York City, retiring at the age of eighty-two, after which she returned to performing for the remaining seven years of her life. Married from 1919 to 1923, Hunter actually spent most of her life in long-term relationships with a number of women, though she never publicly came out of the closet.