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August 14, 1894: Entertainer Ada 'Bricktop' Smith Born in Alderson

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e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On August 14, 1894, entertainer Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith was born at Alderson. At age five, Ada made her stage debut in Chicago, appearing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By age 16, she was performing on the vaudeville circuit. Soon afterward, a New York saloon keeper gave her the nickname ‘‘Bricktop’’ for her blazing red hair, unusual for an African-American.

In the 1920s, she was singing and dancing in Paris, where she became friends with composer Cole Porter. Porter supposedly wrote the song “Miss Otis Regrets She’s Unable to Lunch Today’’ for Bricktop. She opened a club in Paris called the Music Box, which was soon succeeded by another club called Bricktop’s.

During the late 1930s, she made radio broadcasts in France but returned to the United States when Nazi Germany began expanding across Europe. Her only recording, ‘‘So Long, Baby,’’ was made with Cy Coleman in 1970, and she continued to perform into her 80s. Her autobiography was published shortly before her death in 1984 at age 89.

Ada “Bricktop” Smith was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2013.


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