Hazel Dorothy Scott was born on June 11, 1920; in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Her father was a scholar and her mother, a music teacher. When she was 4 years old, the family moved to New York City, where she became recognized as a child prodigy. At the age of 8 she was rewarded a scholarship to Julliard.
In her teens Hazel began to perform with her mothers all-girl jazz band, which included Lil Hardin Armstrong, wife of Louis Armstrong. By the age of 16 her reputation for being talented and beautiful began to soar on the music scene, landing her several performances with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Scott performed jazz, blues, ballads, and classical music in various nightclubs.
In the 1940’s she starred in numerous films, a few of them with Lena Horne. By the age of 25 she was earning over $75,000 a year, which would inflate to over a million dollars in todays time.
In 1945, Hazel, who was a Catholic, married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a Baptist minister and U.S. Congressman. Their relationship provoked much controversy; Adam was married when their affair had began. They had one child, Adam Clayton Powell III.
On July 3, 1950 The Hazel Scott Show debuted making her the first U.S. citizen of African descent to host a television show. The 15 minute show that featured Hazel playing piano and singing aired Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights.
Her active participation in fighting for civil rights had been done particularly in Hollywood. This led to Hazel being falsely ‘Red Listed’ as a communist, and an insurmountable backlash; that ultimately ended up causing her show to be canceled.
She refused to take roles that cast her as a singing maid. When she began performing in films, she insisted on having final cut privileges when it came to her appearance; she required control over her own wardrobe so that she could wear her own clothing if she felt that the studio's choices were unacceptable. She also refused to perform in segregated venues when she was on tour. She was once escorted from the city of Austin, Texas by Texas Rangers because she refused to perform when she discovered that black and white patrons were seated in separate areas. In 1949, Hazel had successfully brought a suit against the owners of a Pasco, Washington restaurant when a waitress refused to serve Scott and her traveling companion because they were “negroes”. Her victory helped African Americans challenge racial discrimination in Spokane, as well as inspiring civil rights organizations to pressure the Washington state legislature to enact the Public Accommodations Act in 1953.
Scott moved to Paris in the late 1950s, where she maintained a steady but difficult career in France and touring throughout Europe. Hazel and Adam divorced in 1960 after a long separation. On January 19, 1961, she married Ezio Bedin, a Swiss-born comedian.
She did not return to the U.S. until 1967, after segregation became illegal.
On October 2, 1981, Hazel Scott died of cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. She was 61 years old.
The first Black person to have a television show.