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*Ada Smith was born on this date in 1894. She was a Black 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 was as Harry in Uncle Tom's Cabin at the Haymarket Theater at around four or five years old. When Smith was sixteen, she toured with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA) and Pantages vaudeville circuits. During these years, she acquired the name “Bricktop,” which referred to her flaming red hair and freckles.
By twenty, she was traveling the country. 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 broadcasts for the French government from 1938-39, but she moved back to the United States as World War II approached.
Her attempts with nightclub enterprises in America 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. The original “Bricktop,” Ada Smith, died on January 31st, 1984, in New York City.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York