Hunter, Alberta [Alix, May; Beatty, Josephine]
(bMemphis, 1 April 1895; d New York, 17 Oct 1984). American jazz and blues singer. From 1914 she sang in night clubs and cabarets in Chicago, and in 1921 she began recording and performing in theatres in New York, where she finally moved in 1923; because she was under contract to Gennett she sometimes recorded for other labels under the pseudonym May Alix and the name of her half-sister Josephine Beatty. She was accompanied most often by Fletcher Henderson, as well as by Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet. In 1922 she composed and recorded Downhearted Blues (Para.), which was recorded in the following year by Bessie Smith and became a popular classic. Another fine recording by Hunter is Texas Moaner Blues (1924, Gen.). Between 1927 and 1937 she worked chiefly in Europe, and in 1934 appeared in the film Radio Parade; at the same time she continued to sing occasionally in the USA. She took part from 1944 to 1953 in several tours sponsored by the United Service Organizations, including one of Europe and Korea with Snub Mosley (1952–3). After beginning a career as a nurse in 1954, she worked infrequently in music, apart from recording with Lovie Austin (1961) and Jimmy Archey (1962). From 1977 she again worked full-time as a musician and made recordings, and until the summer of 1984 she sang regularly at the Cookery in New York.
W. Balliett: ‘Let it be Classy’, American Singers (New York, 1979), 21–31
F.C. Taylor and G. Cook: Alberta Hunter: a Celebration in Blues (New York, 1987)
Oral history material in US-NEij (JOHP)
RONALD M. RADANO
(b Columbia, TN, 16 May 1876; d St Louis, 23 Jan 1906). American ragtime composer. He was born almost totally blind, and learnt piano tuning at a school for the blind. He later worked as a tuner for the Jesse French Piano Co., and taught himself to play and compose ragtime. In 1902 the company transferred him to St Louis, where he played in various bordellos in Chestnut Valley and contracted the dissipated habits which, despite belated attempts to reform, hastened his early death from tuberculosis.
Hunter was a pioneer among white ragtime composers. His rags are syncopated country marches with a distinctive folk flair that seem to celebrate rural life, though tempered with the same touch of melancholy that characterizes country band breakdowns and fiddle tunes. Within the traditional march form he delightfully combined the more complex syncopations of sophisticated piano rags with the simpler rhythms of the cakewalk. Like most folk ragtime composers and performers who begin playing by ear, he had a predilection for the flat keys, especially A. His most popular rag, Tickled to Death (1899), was still available on piano rolls as late as the 1920s. Unpredictable form and key changes abound in Cotton Bolls (1901), Just Ask Me (1902) and his last piece, Back to Life (1905), the title of which is said to be indicative of Hunter’s decision to return to a normal life. All but his last rag were published in Nashville, and evidence points to the existence of a distinctive school of ragtime composition in that city. Hunter also wrote a song, Davy (1904), ‘from the opera Josephine’, but the complete work was probably never published.
Pf rags: Tickled to Death (1899); ’Possum and ’Taters (1900); A Tennessee Tantalizer (1900); Cotton Bolls (1901); Queen of Love (1901); Just Ask Me (1902); Why we Smile (1903); Back to Life (New York, 1905)
Other pf: Seraphine Waltzes (St Louis, 1905)
Song: Davy (W.V. Reynolds) (1904)
Principal publishers: Frank G. Fite, H.A. French
R. Blesh and H. Janis: They All Played Ragtime (New York, 1950, 4/1971)
T.J. Tichenor, ed.: Ragtime Rarities (New York, 1975)
D.A. Jasen and T.J. Tichenor: Rags and Ragtime: a Musical History (New York, 1978)
D.T. Roberts: disc notes, An Album of Early Folk Rags, Stomp Off 1021 (1982)
TREBOR JAY TICHENOR
Hunter, Rita (Nellie)
(b Wallasey, 15 Aug 1933). English soprano. She studied with Edwin Francis in Liverpool and Redvers Llewellyn in London. After a two-year period in the Sadler’s Wells chorus, and a tour with the Carl Rosa Company, a scholarship enabled her to study in 1959 with Eva Turner. In 1960 she became a principal at Sadler’s Wells, making her début as Marcellina; other roles included Senta, Santuzza and Odabella (Attila). However, it was not until the first vernacular performance of the Ring at the Coliseum (beginning with Die Walküre, 1970), in which she was Brünnhilde, that the potential of her well-defined, vibrant dramatic soprano began to be realized: her tone, style and inflections, at once powerful and delicate, seemed to revive the spaciously noble manner of Wagner singing of an earlier era. Flexibility, of both style and timbre, allowed her to encompass Verdi roles with marked success – in particular Amelia (Un ballo in maschera) and Leonora (Il trovatore); despite a figure of ample proportions, she proved herself a touching actress. Her first original-language Brünnhilde was at the Metropolitan, in December 1972; she returned there as Santuzza and Norma, and also sang in San Francisco, Munich and Nice. She recorded Brünnhilde, in German and English, and Eglantine in the first complete Euryanthe. She spent the latter part of her career in Australia, where she added the roles of Isolde and Elektra to her repertory. She was made CBE in 1980 and has published an autobiography, Wait till the Sun Shines, Nellie (London, 1986).
E. Forbes: ‘Rita Hunter’, Opera, xxvii (1976), 14–20