The Musical Legacy of Hazel Scott

Posted by Sara Schwindt, Assistant Director

Have you ever seen this incredible performance on two grand pianos by Hazel Scott (1920-1981)? It's from the 1943 film "The Heat's On."

Scott, the only child of a college-professor father and a classical-pianist mother, was a musical prodigy who was awarded a scholarship to study piano at the Juilliard School at the age of eight. Over the course of her career, Scott garnered acclaim for her virtuosity as both a classical and jazz musician, but she was also a gifted singer and actress. As one of the best-known Black performers of her time, she used her platform to draw attention to racism in the entertainment industry. Among other things, she advocated for equal pay and and against casting practices such as limiting Black actors to stereotypical roles like "the singing maid." She also refused to play at segregated venues while on tour.

Scott's legacy was long-reaching. You may have watched Alicia Keys' performance at the 61st Grammy Awards in 2019, when she said "I've being thinking about people who inspire me; shout out to Hazel Scott, I've always wanted to play two pianos." That was a reference to this performance, which Keys cited as her inspiration.

If you're interested in learning more about the life and legacy of Hazel Scott, here are a few good resources:

1) Hazel Scott's Lifetime of High Notes - from Smithsonian Magazine

2) This Piano Prodigy Was the First African-American Woman to Host Her Own TV Show - from Time Magazine

3) Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist - book by Karen Chilton