Blues singer Alberta Hunter debuted in Chicago at age fifteen in 1912, toured throughout the world and sang leading roles in Europe and on Broadway. Born in 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee, she appeared in top Chicago nightclubs, including the Dreamland Cafe, where she shared the spotlight with the King Oliver Band. In 1921 Hunter made her first recording on the Black Swan label with her own song, "Down Hearted Blues." She replaced Bessie Smith in the leading role of the musical, "How Come?," and shortly thereafter she toured in Europe, which included a leading role in the London production of "Showboat" (1927) along with Paul Robeson. This marked the beginning of a very successful European career which encompassed recordings as well as a role in England's first color film, "Radio Parade of 1935." From this time on Hunter made her home in England and France and developed a sophisticated cabaret act which she took throughout Europe and the Middle East.
With the advent of World War II Hunter returned to the United States and volunteered to headline a 1945 United Service Organizations (USO) tour to Europe, Japan and Korea. After appearances in a 1954 revival of "Mamba's Daughters" with Ethel Waters, and the unsuccessful production of "Mrs. Patterson," starring Eartha Kitt, Hunter retired from the entertainment field.
In 1955, at the age of 60, she began working as a volunteer at the Joint Diseases Hospital in Harlem, then embarked on her second career as a practical nurse at the Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City, where she worked for twenty years before retiring.
Hunter returned to music in 1977, in her eighties, and again recorded extensively, appeared on radio and television programs, sang on film tracts, filled long engagements in New York nightclubs, and travelled to Paris, London and Brazil. Alberta Hunter died in 1984, six months before her ninetieth birthday.
From the guide to the Alberta Hunter papers, 1919-1986, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)