Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Memphis Moment: Alberta Hunter


By Steve Pike


Alberta Hunter, with extended song: "Amtrak Blues"

Memphis, TN – Alberta Hunter was one of many famous musicians who started off in Memphis. She was born here on April 1, 1895, attended Grant School and, and was a member of Collins Chapel CME church. By her early teens, she'd somehow gotten to Chicago. The record isn't clear whether she ran away from home, or her family relocated.

Her career started in the bawdy houses on the South Side of Chicago, where her talent and flamboyant style made her a star. She then headed for New York, where she performed on Broadway and made many popular recordings.

Encouraged by her friend, the legendary Bessie Smith, she added songwriting to her repertoire. Hunter moved to Europe in the late 1920s, enjoying both professional success and an atmosphere less tainted by racism. During WWII, she toured with the U.S.O.

At age 59, Hunter left show business and became a nurse. Then, after nursing for twenty years, she went back to music full-time, even giving dynamic, live performances in her 80s. She performed up until her death in 1984.

Alberta Hunter's distinctive style, which incorporated jazz, blues, and pop music, made important contributions to each.

To learn more about music in Memphis, visit the Pink Palace Museum.