Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Hazel Scott Show

It is well known that the legendary Nat King Cole had his own variety show from 1956 to 1957. That having been said, what is not as well known is that Mr. Cole was not the first African American to have his own variety show. That honour would instead go to singer Billy Daniels, who hosted The Billy Daniels Show on ABC in 1952. That having been said, Billy Daniels was not the first black performer to host his own show. That would be Trinidadian born singer Hazel Scott, who hosted The Hazel Scott Show on the DuMont Network from July 3 to September 29 1950.

For those unfamiliar with Hazel Scott, she was an extremely popular singer in the mid-20th Century. Blessed with an incredible singing voice, considerable talent on the piano, and beauty, Miss Scott had displayed musical talent from a young age. She was only eight years old when she was awarded scholarships to study piano at the Juilliard School. By the time she was a teenager she was performing with the Count Basie Orchestra. In 1943 she made her film debut in the film Something to Shout About. She would also appear in the films I Dood It (1943), The Heat's On (1943), Broadway Rhythm (1944), and Rhapsody in Blue (1945). She recorded several successful albums, not only performing standards, but her own original compositions as well. Among her original compositions were "Blues in B Flat", "Brown Bee Boogie", "Dark Eyes", and "Hazel's Boogie Woogie".

The Hazel Scott Show debuted on July 3 1950. Its format was simple. For 15 minutes Hazel Scott would perform various songs at her piano, everything from show tunes to popular standards. The show aired on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:45 PM to 8: PM Eastern Time. The show received overwhelmingly positive notices from critics. The show also performed very well in the ratings. Unfortunately, it would not last.

It was in June 1950 that the anti-Communist tract Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television was published by the right-wing journal Counterattack. The book purported to list 151 actors, broadcast journalists, musicians, writers, and so on who allegedly supported Communism. Among those listed was Hazel Scott. As a result Miss Scott voluntarily appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and read a prepared statement. She denied that she had ever been connected to the Communist Party or any of its front organisations, but admitted that she had supported Communist Party member Benjamin J. Davis's run for the New York City council. She noted that Mr. Davis was supported by socialists, who had "...hated Communists longer and more fiercely than any other."

Unfortunately, Hazel Scott's honesty before HUAC would hurt her career. Namely, it was one week after her testimony before the committee that DuMont cancelled The Hazel Scott Show, despite critical acclaim and high ratings. Miss Scott would continue to appear on American television for a time, including appearances on Wonderful Town, Cavalcade of Stars, and Songs for Sale. In the end, however, in the late Fifties she left the United States for Paris, where she would remain until 1967.  Afterwards Hazel Scott would make several more appearances on American television, including guest shots on The Bold Ones: The New Doctors and Julia as well as appearances on The Merv Griffith Show and The Mike Douglas Show.

Hazel Scott was notable for having long been a champion for civil rights. She refused to perform before segregated audiences and turned down stereotypical roles in Hollywood. In 1949 when a waitress at a Pasco, Washington restaurant refused to serve Miss Scott and a friend because "they were Negroes", she successfully sued the owners of the restaurant. It seems quite possible that Hazel Scott's commitment to civil rights might well have been what led to her being listed in Red Channels by its publishers.

Sadly, no episodes of The Hazel Scott Show exist today. What is more, many people are not even aware that the show existed. Despite the fact that it only ran for a few months, The Hazel Scott Show made history as the first show hosted by a black performer. While Hazel Scott will always be remembered as a great pianist and singer, she should also be remembered for her groundbreaking television show as well.


Caftan Woman said...

Important history. It is truly a shame that there is no remaining film of Hazel Scott's show. She was truly an amazing talent, and a wonderful woman.

Hal said...

Phenomenally talented; well worth YouTubing every clip of her you can find. And certainly not one to back down. I highly recommend Karen Chilton's biography of her.