20 year-old Adelaide Hall performed with numerous all-African-American cast productions in the early 20th Century, including shows by Eubie Blake and W.C. Handy.
In 1927, Adelaide was appearing in Dance Mania with Duke Ellington. At a stop at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia, Ellington introduced a new composition, an instrumental he called “Creole Love Call.” Adelaide stood in the wings, humming along to the tune as she waited for her time to perform. Ellington stopped playing, got up from the piano and asked, “Can you do that again? That’s just what I was looking for!” Adelaide was startled and she confessed, ” I don’t know. I don’t even know what I was doing.” She gathered her thoughts and again, hummed the counter melody as Ellington played the piano. A few days later, the pair recorded the haunting tune. In 1928, the song entered the Billboard charts at Number 19.
Adelaide was wildly popular throughout the 30s, playing to a world wide audience and headlining prestigious venues like The Cotton Club, The Apollo and the Harlem Opera House. Despite her popularity and acclaim, she faced racism. She and her husband were harassed and antagonized after buying an estate in the predominantly-white suburb of Westchester, New York.
In the late 30s, Adelaide moved to England and continued entertaining enthusiastic crowds. She became the first African-American to sign a long-term contract with the BBC. She released over 70 records for the British label Decca. She was a regular on British stage and even showed up in a cameo role in the 1940 Oscar-winning film The Thief of Bagdad.
Adelaide performed well into the 80s and 90s including a one-woman show at Carnegie Hall. She was the subject of a 1990 documentary called Sophisticated Lady. At a 1992 ceremony where she was honored by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, Adelaide was told by attendees that she appeared to be fifty — despite having recently celebrated her 90th birthday.
Adelaide passed away in November 1993. At a memorial service, British journalist broadcaster Michael Parkinson remarked, “Adelaide lived to be 92 and never grew old.”