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10/18/09

It's for you, Alberta...

Alberta Hunter was in Paris in 1927 when she received a call from Noble Sissle suggesting that she come to London for a major charity show to benefit flood victims. Alberta caught the next thing going and it proved to be just the right move. Oscar Hammerstein III and Jerome Kern were in the audience and Alberta so impressed them that they cast her for the role of Queenie, to play opposite Paul Robeson in their upcoming London production of "Show Boat". It opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, May 3, 1928, and ran for about a year. Here's a cast photo taken during full dress rehearsal, Alberta and Robeson can be seen on the left and, somewhere in the crowd is Mabel Mercer, an unknown chorine whom Frank Sinatra would many years later credit as an influence.


Alberta told me that a frequent backstage visitor was Lady Astor. "She is the one," Alberta said, "who kept putting ideas into Paul's head, she gave him all those ideas that got him into trouble." There was a small colony of black American entertainers living in London and Alberta recalled how amused they were to see a white nanny push Robeson, Jr.'s pram around in Hyde Park.

London, 1928. Ivan Harold Browning, Marian Anderson,
John Payne (holding Haroldine Browning) and Alberta.


When the show finished its successful run, a huge bouquet of red roses was delivered to Alberta's dressing room. With it was this card. Notice Mabel Mercer's signature.


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