FROM THE VAULT: Alberta Hunter – “Can’t a man alive mistreat me, ’cause I know who I am.”

“I’m not living the blues; I’m just singing for the women who think they can’t speak out. Can’t a man alive mistreat me, ’cause I know who I am.” – Alberta Hunter (1895-1984), one of the greats, an American Blues singer who hit her peak in the 30s.

In 1928, Hunter played “Queenie” in a London stage production of “Showboat,” based on the book by Edna Ferber published two years earlier.  For the next two decades, she spent a great deal of time with the U.S.O., entertaining the troops during WWII and the Korean War.

In 1954, following her mother’s death, Hunter left show business and embarked on a career in nursing.  She would later admit to inventing a high school diploma and reducing her age.

In 1961, she was approached by jazz record producer/journalist Chris Albertson who enticed her away from her decade long retirement to record songs with other early pioneers.  She had no interest in leaving her calling and stayed a devoted nurse until she forced forced into retirement in 1977.  Unknown to the hospital administrators, Hunter was already 15 years past retirement age at 80 years old.

For the next several years, she performed to excited audiences around the globe.  She could most often be found in Greenwich at the Cookery.  She was invited to sing at the Carter White House, but originally turned it down because it interfered with her day off.  The date was eventually changed and she fulfilled a lifelong prophecy made to her mother when she was just a little girl – “Some day I’ll sing at the White House.”