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Tue, 08.14.1894

The original “Bricktop,” Ada Smith

Ada Smith

*Ada Smith was born on this date in 1894. The original “Bricktop,” she was an African American vaudevillian, saloon entertainer, international host, and nightclub owner.

Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith was the youngest of four children from Alderson, West Virginia. After her father’s death the family moved to Chicago where she attended Keith School. Her stage debut at around four or five years old was as Harry in Uncle Toms Cabin at the Haymarket Theater. When Ada was sixteen she toured with the theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA) and Pantage vaudeville circuits. It was during these years that she acquired the name “Bricktop,” which referred to her flaming red hair and freckles.

By twenty, she was traveling the country, while in New York at Barron’s Exclusive Club in Harlem, she convinced the owner to hire Elmer Snowden’s Washingtonians, a band that included Duke Ellington. Smith’s first performance in Paris was in 1924, she opened and closed The Music Box and Le Grand Due. Later she opened her club Bricktop, moving it in 1929 to 66 Rue Pigalle with Mabel Mercer as the main attraction. Smith did radio broadcast for the French government from 1938-39, but as World War II approached she moved back to the United States.

Her attempts with nightclub enterprises here were not as successful as abroad. Between 1943 and 1951 she opened and closed nightclubs in Mexico City, Paris, and Rome; continuing with the name Bricktop. So Long Baby her only recording was done with Cy Coleman in 1972. She suffered a heart attack in 1975, Ada Smith died on January 31st 1984 in New York City.

Reference:
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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