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Brick Top discusses her career, her colleagues, and the jazz scene

BROADCAST: May. 6, 1975 | DURATION: 00:41:46

Synopsis

Brick Top discusses her career, her colleagues, and the jazz scene.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel There's a legendary artist in Chicago today. The word legendary is a cliche adjective, the word "artist" is used most promiscuously, and yet she is in that she is a hostess and she has a way of absolutely dominating in a very friendly way, benevolent way, a room. Her name is Bricktop. Now, her voice is not Maria Callas', her voice is not Beverly Sills, no, but she's very special. When she offers a song, it becomes uniquely hers. And she's there with a marvelous colleague who is a composer and pianist and a friend, Hugh Shannon. So this morning, Bricktop is my guest, and she's at the Tango. It's -- the rest-- the Tango is in the Belmont Hotel and works there, quite a remarkable manner in which she works, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. So, in a moment, conversation with Bricktop and also music of some of the artists of whose, whose friendship she's had for a great many years and has helped push to the front a good number of them. In a moment the program with Bricky, Bricktop. After this message. [pause in recording] Her name is, her name is Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith,

Bricktop DuConge.

Studs Terkel Oh, DuConge. I beg your pardon.

Bricktop Oui, monsieur.

Studs Terkel So. How do we begin telling about Bricktop?

Bricktop I don't know. Let's start, say, let's start here in Chicago. You know, I was born in West by God, Virginia, but I was brought to Chicago when I was five years old.

Studs Terkel In West by God, Virginia?

Bricktop That's right. And, um, I was always singing and dancing up and down around the streets and dying to get in the back rooms of the saloons and things. And, of course, I was born with the red-gold hair because my mother was really blond and blue eyes and her first child, my sister Blonzetta, whom I lost a few years ago. Her name was Blonzetta because she was born blonde, and then Mama had some children in between, then I arrived with red-gold hair. Well, I finally got into a theater or something, but I never liked the theater. So the first job I had was a woman living next door to us, had a sore throat and she hollered over and asked my mother could I go down and sing in her place? Well, now this place was

Studs Terkel -- By the way, Brick, how long ago was this, roughly,

Bricktop This is 1912.

Studs Terkel Twelve? That's the year I was born.

Bricktop Really?

Studs Terkel Yeah,

Bricktop Well, you're a baby, see, I'm 80, I'll be 81 the 14th of August.

Studs Terkel Of course, that's very difficult to believe.

Bricktop No, people don't want to believe it, especially women. They say, like the Duchess of Windsor where after I came back after the war because the Duchess and Lady Mendl's the one that sent me home during the war, and she said to me, she saw me at a party and she said, "Brick, you're a living disgrace," and I said, "Now what have I done?" She said, "Look at you. You don't have a line nor a wrinkle." She said, "What do you do?" And I said, "That's it, I don't."

Studs Terkel You know, I think, as you drop names just dropped a couple names casually, as the Duchess of Windsor said and Lady Mendl, you just do drop because this is part of the world that you knew so well.

Bricktop So these are the only people that really I've been associated with since 19-- I went to Paris in 1924 for six months, and I never once came back to the States for six, 15 years.

Studs Terkel Want to ask you about Paris, before that in early Chicago days.

Bricktop Yes, well, as I was saying, and I went down to work for this woman in a place called "Roy Jones'" at 21st and Wabash. Well, Roy Jones was married to a woman, Vic Shaw. There were three great madams in Chicago at that time: Vic Shaw, the Everleigh Sisters and Black [Magna?], Black [Magna?] was that Negro woman who was really, had a great big fashionable house, too.

Studs Terkel Oh, I think that all three of these establishments were quite posh indeed.

Bricktop Oh, very, very, very much so. Well, that -- while I was working at Roy Jones', you know, Jack Johnson was champion of the world then, and of course, Negroes weren't allowed in those places. But you know Jack, he went every place he wanted to go all over the United States, and he came in Roy Jones' one night, so the waiter came over and told me, Roy came over and told me that the Champ wanted to talk to me. So I went over to his table, and he said, "Little girl, I'm going to open up a cabaret. I'm gonna call it the 'Cafe de Champ,' and I want you to come and work there." Well, you know, when I went up to 31st Street that night, I was telling everything because I was a very fresh, little redheaded girl. But when I went to talk about the job, the man who was the manager wouldn't hire me. He said, "Adie, you're too young. You haven't had enough experience to be working here in the 'Cafe de Champ,'" you know, Jack had those

Studs Terkel Hundred-dollar cuspidors.

Bricktop Yes, that's right, and thousands of dollars' worth of paintings on the wall and everything, but anyhow, I was walking down the street one day and Jack came along in his big car and he raced around and come back, pulled up alongside of me, and he said, "I thought I told you to come and work for me." I said, "Well, your manager won't give me a job." He said, "When your week is up, just walk in. And if anybody says anything to you," he said, "You tell him that I said that." Well, there was a thing that if you were late, you always had to go up on the third floor where Jack lived and talk to him. Well, that meant I had to go up every night because I'm always late. And one night he was bawling me out. So I told him, I said, "You know, when I get old as you I'm gonna be bigger than you." But he was a wonderful, wonderful man, and I was very proud

Studs Terkel So you knew Jack Johnson

Bricktop -- Oh, yes.

Studs Terkel Of course, we think Personally.

Bricktop Personally.

Studs Terkel Of this remarkable figure. You know the play "The Great White Hope"

Bricktop Yes.

Studs Terkel James Earl Jones.

Bricktop Well, and I met James Earl, I was invited to the show several years ago in New York, and he's a great, great, great actor.

Studs Terkel But Jack Johnson was the champion, and he was a Black man, and this was quite a dramatic case and quite a powerful problem, too, wasn't it [unintelligible]?

Bricktop Well, it was certainly a problem in those days because they weren't accepting a Negro's married to white women. And each entertainer had to spend so much time up on the second floor in the private dining room, and this happened to be my time. I was up there singing all night long when Jack's first white wife killed herself upstairs on the third floor, and naturally they had to close the place up for a few days, and then it opened up again. But it never was

Studs Terkel But that place, Chicago's South Side of the time

Bricktop Well, that was at 31st Street between Armour and Dearborn.

Studs Terkel This is before, uh, King Oliver came up with the band. They came later.

Bricktop Oh, yeah, Ol, King Oliver never came up

Studs Terkel I remember and [dropped?] young Louis up in the '20s.

Bricktop No, no, he came up in 1915.

Studs Terkel Oh, it was '15.

Bricktop Yeah. Florence Mills and Cora Green and I were working at the Panama at 35th and State St., and next door was a place called the Deluxe. And King Oliver came up and two or three months after he came up, then came Louis Armstrong, and that was the first of the New Orleans jazz coming up to Chicago.

Studs Terkel You mentioned Florence Mills. She was a remarkable artist,

Bricktop Oh, she was the greatest. She was, I think Florence Mills and Ethel Waters, Miss Ethel Waters I always call her, because this woman for me was powerful and really wonderful. Not only was she a great singer and dancer, but she turned out to be one of our better actresses.

Studs Terkel You in that -- Member's daughters for one. Oh,

Bricktop Oh, yes, yes.

Studs Terkel But also

Bricktop -- Then something about the wedding?

Studs Terkel "A Member of the Wedding".

Bricktop "Member of the Wedding", yes, Ethel -- a great, great big performer.

Studs Terkel "His Eye is on the Sparrow".

Bricktop Yes, well, I didn't care much for that book because well, I just didn't care much for it, but she wrote what the public wants and

Studs Terkel Getting a little too sanctimonious.

Bricktop Yes, it was a little too -- I look at it now some time, you know, and it really, Ethel was brought up a Catholic, and then she joined up with Billy Graham and, uh, Bill seemed to be very, very fond of her, but she's a great

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about you, I'm guessing why you didn't like the book, because your life has been a salty one. Salty is the word.

Bricktop My life has been so blessed, darling, until -- that's why they don't want to believe that I came through my life like I have and as a woman publisher once told me -- no, she wasn't a publisher, she was an agent, and she had been very enthusiastic about getting my, managed my book out. And then she said to me, "You know, on the other hand, Bricktop, I don't think that your book would be such a big success." She said, "You have never been a drunkard, you've never been a, a dope fiend or any and happened there visiting me at the time in my apartment was a big Irish priest, and he jumped up and he said, "And Brick has never been any of those things, and now she's a Catholic she never will be, and" -- this woman said, "That's what I'm talking about, Father, that Bricktop it seems incredible that this girl, this has gone where she has, and not only gone to the top but stayed there over 40 years."

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of your, your adventures now on the stage, in the clubs. It's the club that is particularly your milieu, isn't it, the

Bricktop That's my thing,

Studs Terkel Because an intimacy about it, is that it? More than the stage.

Bricktop Well, you see, that's why I can't sing -- I don't sing with spotlights. I don't sing with microphones and things, I have to be right on top of the people. That's what it must always be, a small place. I like to get the react-- action to see how people are acting if they're satisfied, if they're not, then I -- sometimes when I have, I always have three or four artists working in my place with me, and I'm watching the people and I'll walk by the artist and say, "Change that tempo. Get into something else, the people are not getting what you're

Studs Terkel You know, that you said your place, even though, of course, you've owned places, and Bricktops

Bricktop No, all of them have been mine, darling, since 1926 when Cole Porter opened me the first place. Working now for George is the second time that I've worked for anyone.

Studs Terkel The fact is, it's your place. You see, you make it your place. That is, you are a hostess, you see.

Bricktop Well, that's what I have to do. I have to make it a very intimate, uh, place, because I don't know any other way to work. I don't know any

Studs Terkel Let's say an American going to Paris [unintelligible], you make it a 'Club

Bricktop Well, yes. Intimate, you see, and but very chic. Very elegant. In those years, you had to be dressed. You couldn't come in

Studs Terkel Oh, really?

Bricktop Oh, you had to have on a smoking [jacket] or tails, and ladies were always in evening clothes. And of course, I and Florence Jones, that was another colored girl entertaining in Paris. We had to be dressed like the

Studs Terkel Then I could never make, enter your place then dressed the way

Bricktop Oh, my goodness, no!

Studs Terkel I'm dressed like a bum generally, I could never make it.

Bricktop I should say

Studs Terkel -- You'd kick me out the back door.

Bricktop No, no, no. In the first place, you'd never get by the doorman. But you wouldn't have came in, darling. You wouldn't, you wouldn't have arrived. Even Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and everyone in those years, it was the thing that everyone went home after cocktails around eight or nine o'clock and changed clothes. It was just the thing in Paris,

Studs Terkel This was the mo-- was club, what was it called? The club

Bricktop No, Bricktop's. Always. Always Bricktop's.

Studs Terkel Before Paris, you were now established in New York, weren't you? Or was it after Paris?

Bricktop No, darling, I went from Chicago here to New York, and I went to work in Barron Wilkins'. You see, Barron Wilkins is the man that named me Bricktop when I was 17 years old, I was in New York in vaudeville, and I was in the back room of his saloon one night, and he said, "Who is that fresh little loud girl?" And someone said, "That's Ada Smith from Chicago." He said, "I'm going to call her Bricktop," and ever since then

Studs Terkel -- You mention Barron Wilkins, and you knew him, now here's something I casually came across in a jazz book, and Duke Ellington is reminiscing about his beginnings and he's had a hard time and he and some of his colleagues from Washington, jazzmen, came to New York, and I'm quoting Duke now. "The job was set back time and time again. Promised a job, couldn't get it. It got so it looked very bad. We're living with some nice people. They told us we could stay until we found some work. We kept right on auditioning. Nothing ever happened. There was no work. Then Bricktop came along, and she saved the day for us. I'd work with Bricktop, the famed Bricktop of Montmartre Paris, at the Oriental in Washington. Barron's was then a very popular spot. She knew Barron well. She got him to let his band go and hired us instead." And that's how he got started.

Bricktop That's right. Well, they were five. Was Duke, Otto Hardwick and Elmer Snowden, Sonny Greer, and a boy named Sheik Kahout who played the trumpet. And I used to go down to Washington every once in a while because I'd like to go down to Washington, D.C., and I knew these kids. So I met him on the street in New York and I said, "What are you doing here?" And they said, "Starvin' to death. We came here to go on vaudeville and nothing is happening." So I rushed immediately to Barron, the man who had named me Bricktop years ago, and I told him, I said, I used to call him Daddy all the time, I said, "There's five kids here from Washington, D.C." He said, "Yes, I know, and you want to fire the band downstairs and hire them." I said, "Yeah, sure." So we did. And they came to work. And from Barron Wilkins, then Leonard Harper, who was producing shows in then, took them down to the Kentucky Club. Well, while we were at the Kentucky Club, I -- they sent for me to come to Paris. And then later that's when Duke went in the Cotton Club.

Studs Terkel Suppose we hear some early, some early Duke, and by the way, you said Cotton Club. Let's hear early Duke and the "Cotton Club Stomp".

Bricktop Yes!

Studs Terkel This Duke Ellington recording, the period -- obviously period piece, early '20s, you can tell by the

Bricktop Yeah, but pure, pure.

Studs Terkel And yet, what does it

Bricktop You knew exact, you knew exactly what they were playing. You knew what it was all about, and now things are so confusing, if they -- don't look on the label, you'll never know what they're playing. It's like these screamers. Uh, Dinah Washington was the first girl to [start? stop?] the screaming, but she was screaming on tune, and all those chords were not hanging out of her throat and things like that. For me, she's the greatest ever. God rest her soul in peace. Yes,

Studs Terkel she What

Bricktop Holiday? Oh, in a class by herself? No, no, no, no else. Billy had the whole world trying to copy her and sing like her. She -- well, now I have to be big-headed and say it: they only made one Billy like they only made one Bricktop. Well, it's

Studs Terkel Well, it's true. You are, you are, use a fancy word. You are sui generis. That's a pretty fancy -- that's what you

Bricktop No, I'm just, I'm just myself. You see, darling, the whole world has been good to me. And you can only give away what you've got, and when you're giving away something you got, you're not giving away anything. It's only when you haven't got something that you got to go and get it. Then you're giving away something. But Billie Holiday, that was

Studs Terkel You know, what you just said, if you put those lyrics down on paper, that'd be the lyrics of a good blues. Giving away what you got, they can't give away anything you ain't got.

Bricktop Well, you know where I got that from? I got that from one year during Easter time. A priest was preaching the sermon, and he said, "You know, if you give up something for Lent that you can give up at any other time, you're not giving up anything." So I went right and got my beer, because I used to drink a lot of beer and I used to give it up for Lent, so I thought, "Well, I can give up beer. I can give up anything any time," because I swore all my life nothing was ever going to get the best of me.

Studs Terkel Well, obviously it never did. I'm thinking about you and the world, that you're pretty much home.

Bricktop Well, the world has been very kind to me, sweetheart, and I'm grateful. I'm grateful.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about the various clubs. So there you were in New York,

Bricktop Yes, but don't forget, the first time I came back to New York from Paris, I got fired off of every job in New York!

Studs Terkel Why, why'd you get fired?

Bricktop Well, because I guess probably I'm the only saloonkeeper in the world that don't use bad language. Or probably one the very few entertainers that don't use bad language and now I might get drunk and fall on my face, but that bad language, I just, I don't care for it.

Studs Terkel You don't need the language. You see, of course there are nuances in the way you offer a song.

Bricktop Darling, those guys who were running those joints on 52nd Street and around New York in those days and they wanted to hit you on the backsides and things, and I didn't, I don't like it! I really, I just don't care for it. And I've been a tomboy all my life, but I think of woman as a woman and I like that you're being treated like one, and I tell people, "Don't use that language." I walk over to a guest in my place and say, "If you don't mind, don't" -- they say, "What is this, a church?" and I say, "Not exactly, but I just don't want to hear it. And I've got some privileges too, I come in and have fun, so I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear it," but the world darling has certainly been good to me.

Studs Terkel He'd say, "What is the church," he'd say, is that what you're saying, that

Bricktop No, no, no. I'm a sighing, crying, living, dying, and as far as my station in life permits, I'm a Roman Catholic with the greatest respect for everyone's religion.

Studs Terkel I want to come back to the manner in which you offer a song. It's a, it's not exactly singing, it's singing, it's recitative, it's drama. How would you describe it?

Bricktop Well, I'll tell you, know, um, Fritzie Loewe once said, "There's no one in the world with the timing and the phrasing"

Studs Terkel This is Loewe of Lerner and Loewe.

Bricktop Yes, "There's no one in the world with the timing and the phrasing of Bricktop, and the funny thing about it, Brick don't know what she's doing," and I don't because you see, I don't consider myself a singer. I run these places. That's my thing. And of course, people came and say "The boss is singing," then that's a great big deal. But like Cole Porter wrote "Day and Night" and "Love for Sale", and a lot of those, his great hits practically right in my place. I wasn't asked to sing them, and then Mabel Mercer, I brought Mabel working with me, and as she writes in her books, and she said, "I became a star at Bricktop's," which she did. But Mabel at that time had a beautiful singing voice, and she used to sing the song until Cole walked in one night and told me that he'd written "Miss Otis Regrets".

Studs Terkel Now, "Miss Otis Regrets" is one that you offer very, very dramatically, and it was written for you.

Bricktop Well, because that's the way that he rehearsed me in it, and I tell people, "Please. Out of respect for Mr. Cole Porter. Be quiet."

Studs Terkel But how could those, How would you interpret those lyrics? Think about this. Here is a mistress who kills her lover and then she's lynched. Now, this has all kind of implications, doesn't it?

Bricktop Well, they were still lynching people in those days, you see, and that's where when I said to Cole, "Where'd you get that title?" He said, "Well, someone got lynched the other day and you said, 'Well, they won't go up to lunch tomorrow.'" And that's where the

Studs Terkel I had the impression, Brick, see if I'm right about this interpretation, I have the impression that Porter wrote the thing as though it were this white guy, an established guy in town, had a beautiful Black mistress, and she was Black! That's the way I interpret it,

Bricktop No, no, no

Studs Terkel I know, that's my interpretation

Bricktop And nothing to do with that. And using that word "Black," you know I don't allow it.

Studs Terkel No, you don't. You don't like "Black."

Bricktop I don't, I don't have anything against Black, it's just that all my life if you called someone Black, you had to fight him. Even though they were Black!

Studs Terkel It's changed

Bricktop Well, and nobody's going about-face me but God Almighty, and after fighting all up and down State Street and all up and down Seventh Avenue, New York, about that word Black, I'm not gonna come, come now. And I don't know what they're trying to prove, but if they want to use it, let 'em use it. But I, I just don't care for it.

Studs Terkel But what -- that interpretation of the song, though, see this

Bricktop But the interpretation of the song is

Studs Terkel I thought of the lynching aspect, that's why

Bricktop No, the thing about the whole thing was they were still lynching people in those days, and I guess they still are.

Studs Terkel Yeah, mostly, but mostly of a certain color, though.

Bricktop Yes, well, they were. They were, but you know one thing, Studs, is a lot of white people have been lynched, but they never wrote anything about it.

Studs Terkel Well, the ratio is a little higher, though, you must admit.

Bricktop Yes, well, that too is when

Studs Terkel Back to, back to you and the areas you knew. The South Side of Chicago, then New York, the nightclub areas, and then Paris.

Bricktop That's

Studs Terkel Which, of course, leads to your friendship with a remarkable and beloved artist came from St. Louis as you came from Illinois, went to Paris. Josephine Baker, of course.

Bricktop Well, Josephine came to Paris a year after I had been there, she was 19 years old, and for the public, I want to get it straight, Josephine died when she was 79 because I'm 11 years older than she and she arrived, you know, Josephine didn't come over

Studs Terkel Sixty-nine, you mean.

Bricktop In -- she was 69 years old. Yes. And, uh, Josephine originally wasn't supposed to be the star of the show, the star of the show was a girl named Maud de Forest, but Maud de Forest used to drink quite a bit, and when she'd drink, she'd lose her voice. So coming over on the ship, they decided to give Josephine a couple of things to do because, you know, Josephine was just a chorus girl, an N-girl in "Shuffle Along", and Maud, running true to form, lost her voice and they had to bring Josephine on stage. Well, they brought her on stage on the back of a big Negro from the Cameroons. And she had that bronze, beautiful, beautiful body. And when he put her down, the whole theater shook. The people scream and hollered and Josephine got so frightened she ran off stage and they had to carry her back on. But of course, Paris being Paris and the Frenchmen, you know what they think about beauty and things like that. Overnight, she became a sensation.

Studs Terkel Suppose we hear one of her songs. "J'Attendrai", this is one of which, for which she's noted. You want to sing along?

Bricktop [Like that? I can't?].

Studs Terkel So we hear, we hear Josephine Baker, and at the time, you and she the two toasts of gay Paree.

Bricktop Well. [pause

Studs Terkel You know, Bricktop, in hearing Josephine Baker's voice, I want to ask you in a moment about memories that are evoked when you hear her voice and your thoughts of Paris at the time, you were the, one of the Queen Bees. In a moment we'll resume the program with Bricktop, who's appearing Thursdays, Fridays, Wednesday's?

Bricktop Tuesday's.

Studs Terkel Oh, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday nights at the Tango

Bricktop In the

Studs Terkel It's in the Belmont Hotel about oh, 10:45 is one show and, the other begins about 12:15 and, uh, we'll return. Un momento. [pause in recording] Resuming the conversation with Bricktop. I was thinking, Josephine Baker, in hearing her voice, I suppose

Bricktop Yes, but in later years, darling, Josephine's voice went up about four octaves, and that was one of her first, very, very first records, and even her French, she wasn't too sure about then, but then, Josephine arrived with no education or anything, I stopped her from signing autographs and I told her, "Get a stamp," and stamp 'em, but she died a woman that knew all about books and paintings and a very highly-educated girl and also became a great actress.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Bricktop She was one of the most fantastic -- well, when I introduced her to Carnegie Hall two years ago.

Studs Terkel You did, you introduced her

Bricktop Well, the man who brought her over, he said, "Brick, I think it's fitting that you should introduce Josephine," well, you know, I, I'm scared to death if I even walk up three steps on a platform or anything like that. But I went out and I told the people. I said, "You know, I have no business being up here. I'm a saloonkeeper. And of course, everyone stood and screamed and hollered because they knew it's true. But Josephine came out and again, uh, she could -- like Louis Armstrong could never blow a bad note, Josephine Baker couldn't do wrong. She couldn't do wrong, she was such an artist.

Studs Terkel I notice on the album some liner notes by Janet Flanner, who writes for "The New Yorker", Paris

Bricktop Oh, Jan, Janet's a great friend.

Studs Terkel You know her, I thought she was.

Bricktop Yeah, well, Mem, a Mem Boucher, when I first arrived 1924 in Paris and in '25 he was working for "The New Yorker" at that time, and he wrote, he said, "Bricktop, a pale young, unspoiled beauty who sings and dances like a star." Well, when I went back and opened again in 1950 in Paris, Janet repeated that, she said, "And many times in the morning you could see the Prince of Wales and Mabel Mercer and Bricktop in mutual conversation with great respect."

Studs Terkel What years were you there, it was your place, "Bricktop's" in Paris. What was the, what were those years?

Bricktop I arrived in 1924 for six months, and when they took me to the place and they said, "This is where you're gonna work," well, it was a little room with 12 tables, and I said, "It's a nice bar, but where's the cabaret?" You know, in those years they called them cabarets, and they said, "This is it." Well, I burst into tears because I had just left Connie's Inn with Roy's, Leroy Smith's band, 11 pieces, and chorus girls behind

Studs Terkel We should point out that Connie's Inn was a very great nightclub in New

Bricktop Connie, Connie was, used to be a great client of mine down to Barron's, and I told him how to name the place Connie's Inn and everything, well, working at this place, The Grand Duke in Paris when I arrived, was a boy named Jimmy Hughes who really was our great, great, great, God rest his soul, Langston Hughes. And he wrote in one of his books, a couple years later

Studs Terkel -- He

Bricktop It was Langston Hughes, but we didn't know it, we only knew him by Jimmy Hughes, and he wrote in one of his books a couple of years later, he said "Brick cried when she found out she gonna work 12 tables," he said. "But two years later, when she had all the royalty of Europe at her tables, she wasn't crying."

Studs Terkel So that was the club. That was also the time when many of the American writers were there, you know

Bricktop Oh, I should say, they were all over. But they were over in Montparnasse. Had all the writers there, and Scott and Zelda used to always say that

Studs Terkel You say Scott and Zelda, you knew them.

Bricktop Oh, personally! Oh, Scott! I can tell you some stories about Scott, but that's nobody's business. Well, Scott used to always say, "I knew Brick before Cole Porter did." And he did. He knew me the year before. But Scott had a way that, well, he was the sweetest boy in the world. But he was just like a child. He jumped in the pond once out to the Lido, out on the Champs-Elysees, and Zelda jumped in behind him, and they had to call the police. And in the confusion, Zelda got away and went home. And when the police wanted to lock Scott up, he said, "You can't lock me up. I'm a friend of Bricktop's," and the police said, "Bricktop's? Madame Bricktop wouldn't know anyone like you." And he says, "Well, take me." So they brought him over to the place. And there he was dripping wet, and he couldn't come inside, and the gendarme said to me, "Do you know this man?" And I said yes. "So you can have him." You, you -- well, Scott had a thing, and I used to say to him, "Now, Scott, you've had enough to drink. You got to go home." He'd say, "I'll only go home if you take me." Well, taking him home is like going from here to Evanston. So I'd take him home and he'd get there and he'd say, "Oh, Bricky, please. Can I go back and have one more bottle?" And I'd take him back. Well, then it got to the point with Michael Farmer, who later married Gloria Swanson, all the clients wanted to be taken home. That became my thing,

Studs Terkel You were sort of the mother image.

Bricktop Until it got to the point where somebody had, someone had to take me home! I was having a few myself.

Studs Terkel You know, when someone, someone else dropping these names as you do, I'd say, "Oh, God," but in your case, it's the most natural thing in the world. Of course! It's like breathing.

Bricktop Darling, they're the only people since I, since I went to Paris and Cole Porter made "Bricktop," they were the only people that I was associated with that came in, into "Bricktop's."

Studs Terkel And Hemingway had difficulty getting in sometimes.

Bricktop Well, Hemingway didn't get in that much. I wasn't that crazy about Hemingway, because he was very mean to Scott. And he was also mean to another dear friend that stayed, a writer named Bob McAlmon. But I

Studs Terkel -- The friend of Kay Boyle, Robert McAlmon.

Bricktop Oh, well, have you read Kay's book? "Genius is All"?

Studs Terkel Oh, you know that one.

Bricktop But I know Kay, I mean, when she wrote a book, well, when she wrote in the book and she said, "And then we got to Brick's and Bricktop, who, you know, after I was really introduced into Paris, Mistinguett was supposed to have the most beautiful feet and legs in the world, well, the French papers started to write "Mistinguett does not have the most beautiful feet and legs in the world, they belong to a little mulatta up in Montmartre named Bricktop," and Kay wrote very lovingly about me. I see her every time I go to San Francisco.

Studs Terkel She's, she's quite a remarkable, gallant

Bricktop She's just, she's a terrific woman. She's just terrific woman.

Studs Terkel So the writers came, the, and, uh, the members of the royalty

Bricktop Well, the writers came -- Fannie Ward, you know, really was a -- and Jack Dean her husband.

Studs Terkel Fannie Ward?

Bricktop Yeah, the great old actress.

Studs Terkel You mean Fannie Ward, who

Bricktop -- The actress who had the facelift.

Studs Terkel

Bricktop There's a legendary artist in Chicago today. The word legendary is a cliche adjective, the word "artist" is used most promiscuously, and yet she is in that she is a hostess and she has a way of absolutely dominating in a very friendly way, benevolent way, a room. Her name is Bricktop. Now, her voice is not Maria Callas', her voice is not Beverly Sills, no, but she's very special. When she offers a song, it becomes uniquely hers. And she's there with a marvelous colleague who is a composer and pianist and a friend, Hugh Shannon. So this morning, Bricktop is my guest, and she's at the Tango. It's -- the rest-- the Tango is in the Belmont Hotel and works there, quite a remarkable manner in which she works, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. So, in a moment, conversation with Bricktop and also music of some of the artists of whose, whose friendship she's had for a great many years and has helped push to the front a good number of them. In a moment the program with Bricky, Bricktop. After this message. [pause in recording] Her name is, her name is Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, and DuConge. Oh, DuConge. I beg your pardon. Oui, monsieur. So. How do we begin telling about Bricktop? I don't know. Let's start, say, let's start here in Chicago. You know, I was born in West by God, Virginia, but I was brought to Chicago when I was five years old. In West by God, Virginia? That's right. And, um, I was always singing and dancing up and down around the streets and dying to get in the back rooms of the saloons and things. And, of course, I was born with the red-gold hair because my mother was really blond and blue eyes and her first child, my sister Blonzetta, whom I lost a few years ago. Her name was Blonzetta because she was born blonde, and then Mama had some children in between, then I arrived with red-gold hair. Well, I finally got into a theater or something, but I never liked the theater. So the first job I had was a woman living next door to us, had a sore throat and she hollered over and asked my mother could I go down and sing in her place? Well, now this place was -- By the way, Brick, how long ago was this, roughly, would This is 1912. Twelve? That's the year I was born. Really? Yeah, Well, you're a baby, see, I'm 80, I'll be 81 the 14th of August. Of course, that's very difficult to believe. No, people don't want to believe it, especially women. They say, like the Duchess of Windsor where after I came back after the war because the Duchess and Lady Mendl's the one that sent me home during the war, and she said to me, she saw me at a party and she said, "Brick, you're a living disgrace," and I said, "Now what have I done?" She said, "Look at you. You don't have a line nor a wrinkle." She said, "What do you do?" And I said, "That's it, I don't." You know, I think, as you drop names just dropped a couple names casually, as the Duchess of Windsor said and Lady Mendl, you just do drop because this is part of the world that you knew so well. So these are the only people that really I've been associated with since 19-- I went to Paris in 1924 for six months, and I never once came back to the States for six, 15 years. Want to ask you about Paris, before that in early Chicago days. Yes, well, as I was saying, and I went down to work for this woman in a place called "Roy Jones'" at 21st and Wabash. Well, Roy Jones was married to a woman, Vic Shaw. There were three great madams in Chicago at that time: Vic Shaw, the Everleigh Sisters and Black [Magna?], Black [Magna?] was that Negro woman who was really, had a great big fashionable house, too. Oh, I think that all three of these establishments were quite posh indeed. Oh, very, very, very much so. Well, that -- while I was working at Roy Jones', you know, Jack Johnson was champion of the world then, and of course, Negroes weren't allowed in those places. But you know Jack, he went every place he wanted to go all over the United States, and he came in Roy Jones' one night, so the waiter came over and told me, Roy came over and told me that the Champ wanted to talk to me. So I went over to his table, and he said, "Little girl, I'm going to open up a cabaret. I'm gonna call it the 'Cafe de Champ,' and I want you to come and work there." Well, you know, when I went up to 31st Street that night, I was telling everything because I was a very fresh, little redheaded girl. But when I went to talk about the job, the man who was the manager wouldn't hire me. He said, "Adie, you're too young. You haven't had enough experience to be working here in the 'Cafe de Champ,'" you know, Jack had those $100 Hundred-dollar cuspidors. Yes, that's right, and thousands of dollars' worth of paintings on the wall and everything, but anyhow, I was walking down the street one day and Jack came along in his big car and he raced around and come back, pulled up alongside of me, and he said, "I thought I told you to come and work for me." I said, "Well, your manager won't give me a job." He said, "When your week is up, just walk in. And if anybody says anything to you," he said, "You tell him that I said that." Well, there was a thing that if you were late, you always had to go up on the third floor where Jack lived and talk to him. Well, that meant I had to go up every night because I'm always late. And one night he was bawling me out. So I told him, I said, "You know, when I get old as you I'm gonna be bigger than you." But he was a wonderful, wonderful man, and I was very proud of So you knew Jack Johnson -- Oh, yes. Of course, we think Personally. Of this remarkable figure. You know the play "The Great White Hope" -- Yes. James Earl Jones. Well, and I met James Earl, I was invited to the show several years ago in New York, and he's a great, great, great actor. But Jack Johnson was the champion, and he was a Black man, and this was quite a dramatic case and quite a powerful problem, too, wasn't it [unintelligible]? Well, it was certainly a problem in those days because they weren't accepting a Negro's married to white women. And each entertainer had to spend so much time up on the second floor in the private dining room, and this happened to be my time. I was up there singing all night long when Jack's first white wife killed herself upstairs on the third floor, and naturally they had to close the place up for a few days, and then it opened up again. But it never was the But that place, Chicago's South Side of the time Well, that was at 31st Street between Armour and Dearborn. This is before, uh, King Oliver came up with the band. They came later. Oh, yeah, Ol, King Oliver never came up until I remember and [dropped?] young Louis up in the '20s. No, no, he came up in 1915. Oh, it was '15. Yeah. Florence Mills and Cora Green and I were working at the Panama at 35th and State St., and next door was a place called the Deluxe. And King Oliver came up and two or three months after he came up, then came Louis Armstrong, and that was the first of the New Orleans jazz coming up to Chicago. You mentioned Florence Mills. She was a remarkable artist, you Oh, she was the greatest. She was, I think Florence Mills and Ethel Waters, Miss Ethel Waters I always call her, because this woman for me was powerful and really wonderful. Not only was she a great singer and dancer, but she turned out to be one of our better actresses. You in that -- Member's daughters for one. Oh, yes, yes. But also -- Then something about the wedding? "A Member of the Wedding". "Member of the Wedding", yes, Ethel -- a great, great big performer. "His Eye is on the Sparrow". Yes, well, I didn't care much for that book because well, I just didn't care much for it, but she wrote what the public wants and -- Getting a little too sanctimonious. Yes, it was a little too -- I look at it now some time, you know, and it really, Ethel was brought up a Catholic, and then she joined up with Billy Graham and, uh, Bill seemed to be very, very fond of her, but she's a great artist. I'm thinking about you, I'm guessing why you didn't like the book, because your life has been a salty one. Salty is the word. My life has been so blessed, darling, until -- that's why they don't want to believe that I came through my life like I have and as a woman publisher once told me -- no, she wasn't a publisher, she was an agent, and she had been very enthusiastic about getting my, managed my book out. And then she said to me, "You know, on the other hand, Bricktop, I don't think that your book would be such a big success." She said, "You have never been a drunkard, you've never been a, a dope fiend or any and happened there visiting me at the time in my apartment was a big Irish priest, and he jumped up and he said, "And Brick has never been any of those things, and now she's a Catholic she never will be, and" -- this woman said, "That's what I'm talking about, Father, that Bricktop it seems incredible that this girl, this has gone where she has, and not only gone to the top but stayed there over 40 years." I'm thinking of your, your adventures now on the stage, in the clubs. It's the club that is particularly your milieu, isn't it, the club? That's my thing, and Because an intimacy about it, is that it? More than the stage. Well, you see, that's why I can't sing -- I don't sing with spotlights. I don't sing with microphones and things, I have to be right on top of the people. That's what it must always be, a small place. I like to get the react-- action to see how people are acting if they're satisfied, if they're not, then I -- sometimes when I have, I always have three or four artists working in my place with me, and I'm watching the people and I'll walk by the artist and say, "Change that tempo. Get into something else, the people are not getting what you're doing." You know, that you said your place, even though, of course, you've owned places, and Bricktops No, all of them have been mine, darling, since 1926 when Cole Porter opened me the first place. Working now for George is the second time that I've worked for anyone. The fact is, it's your place. You see, you make it your place. That is, you are a hostess, you see. Well, that's what I have to do. I have to make it a very intimate, uh, place, because I don't know any other way to work. I don't know any other Let's say an American going to Paris [unintelligible], you make it a 'Club Well, yes. Intimate, you see, and but very chic. Very elegant. In those years, you had to be dressed. You couldn't come in -- Oh, really? Oh, you had to have on a smoking [jacket] or tails, and ladies were always in evening clothes. And of course, I and Florence Jones, that was another colored girl entertaining in Paris. We had to be dressed like the clients. Then I could never make, enter your place then dressed the way I Oh, my goodness, no! I'm dressed like a bum generally, I could never make it. I should say -- You'd kick me out the back door. No, no, no. In the first place, you'd never get by the doorman. But you wouldn't have came in, darling. You wouldn't, you wouldn't have arrived. Even Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and everyone in those years, it was the thing that everyone went home after cocktails around eight or nine o'clock and changed clothes. It was just the thing in Paris, that's This was the mo-- was club, what was it called? The club -- No, Bricktop's. Always. Always Bricktop's. Before Paris, you were now established in New York, weren't you? Or was it after Paris? No, darling, I went from Chicago here to New York, and I went to work in Barron Wilkins'. You see, Barron Wilkins is the man that named me Bricktop when I was 17 years old, I was in New York in vaudeville, and I was in the back room of his saloon one night, and he said, "Who is that fresh little loud girl?" And someone said, "That's Ada Smith from Chicago." He said, "I'm going to call her Bricktop," and ever since then -- You mention Barron Wilkins, and you knew him, now here's something I casually came across in a jazz book, and Duke Ellington is reminiscing about his beginnings and he's had a hard time and he and some of his colleagues from Washington, jazzmen, came to New York, and I'm quoting Duke now. "The job was set back time and time again. Promised a job, couldn't get it. It got so it looked very bad. We're living with some nice people. They told us we could stay until we found some work. We kept right on auditioning. Nothing ever happened. There was no work. Then Bricktop came along, and she saved the day for us. I'd work with Bricktop, the famed Bricktop of Montmartre Paris, at the Oriental in Washington. Barron's was then a very popular spot. She knew Barron well. She got him to let his band go and hired us instead." And that's how he got started. That's right. Well, they were five. Was Duke, Otto Hardwick and Elmer Snowden, Sonny Greer, and a boy named Sheik Kahout who played the trumpet. And I used to go down to Washington every once in a while because I'd like to go down to Washington, D.C., and I knew these kids. So I met him on the street in New York and I said, "What are you doing here?" And they said, "Starvin' to death. We came here to go on vaudeville and nothing is happening." So I rushed immediately to Barron, the man who had named me Bricktop years ago, and I told him, I said, I used to call him Daddy all the time, I said, "There's five kids here from Washington, D.C." He said, "Yes, I know, and you want to fire the band downstairs and hire them." I said, "Yeah, sure." So we did. And they came to work. And from Barron Wilkins, then Leonard Harper, who was producing shows in then, took them down to the Kentucky Club. Well, while we were at the Kentucky Club, I -- they sent for me to come to Paris. And then later that's when Duke went in the Cotton Club. Suppose we hear some early, some early Duke, and by the way, you said Cotton Club. Let's hear early Duke and the "Cotton Club Stomp". Yes! This Duke Ellington recording, the period -- obviously period piece, early '20s, you can tell by the sound Yeah, but pure, pure. And yet, what does it -- You knew exact, you knew exactly what they were playing. You knew what it was all about, and now things are so confusing, if they -- don't look on the label, you'll never know what they're playing. It's like these screamers. Uh, Dinah Washington was the first girl to [start? stop?] the screaming, but she was screaming on tune, and all those chords were not hanging out of her throat and things like that. For me, she's the greatest ever. God rest her soul in peace. Yes, she What Holiday? Oh, in a class by herself? No, no, no, no else. Billy had the whole world trying to copy her and sing like her. She -- well, now I have to be big-headed and say it: they only made one Billy like they only made one Bricktop. Well, it's true. You are, you are, use a fancy word. You are sui generis. That's a pretty fancy -- that's what you are. No, I'm just, I'm just myself. You see, darling, the whole world has been good to me. And you can only give away what you've got, and when you're giving away something you got, you're not giving away anything. It's only when you haven't got something that you got to go and get it. Then you're giving away something. But Billie Holiday, that was [amazing?]. You know, what you just said, if you put those lyrics down on paper, that'd be the lyrics of a good blues. Giving away what you got, they can't give away anything you ain't got. Well, you know where I got that from? I got that from one year during Easter time. A priest was preaching the sermon, and he said, "You know, if you give up something for Lent that you can give up at any other time, you're not giving up anything." So I went right and got my beer, because I used to drink a lot of beer and I used to give it up for Lent, so I thought, "Well, I can give up beer. I can give up anything any time," because I swore all my life nothing was ever going to get the best of me. Well, obviously it never did. I'm thinking about you and the world, that you're pretty much home. Well, the world has been very kind to me, sweetheart, and I'm grateful. I'm grateful. I'm thinking about the various clubs. So there you were in New York, and Yes, but don't forget, the first time I came back to New York from Paris, I got fired off of every job in New York! Why, why'd you get fired? Well, because I guess probably I'm the only saloonkeeper in the world that don't use bad language. Or probably one the very few entertainers that don't use bad language and now I might get drunk and fall on my face, but that bad language, I just, I don't care for it. You don't need the language. You see, of course there are nuances in the way you offer a song. Darling, those guys who were running those joints on 52nd Street and around New York in those days and they wanted to hit you on the backsides and things, and I didn't, I don't like it! I really, I just don't care for it. And I've been a tomboy all my life, but I think of woman as a woman and I like that you're being treated like one, and I tell people, "Don't use that language." I walk over to a guest in my place and say, "If you don't mind, don't" -- they say, "What is this, a church?" and I say, "Not exactly, but I just don't want to hear it. And I've got some privileges too, I come in and have fun, so I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear it," but the world darling has certainly been good to me. He'd say, "What is the church," he'd say, is that what you're saying, that kind No, no, no. I'm a sighing, crying, living, dying, and as far as my station in life permits, I'm a Roman Catholic with the greatest respect for everyone's religion. I want to come back to the manner in which you offer a song. It's a, it's not exactly singing, it's singing, it's recitative, it's drama. How would you describe it? Well, I'll tell you, know, um, Fritzie Loewe once said, "There's no one in the world with the timing and the phrasing" -- This is Loewe of Lerner and Loewe. Yes, "There's no one in the world with the timing and the phrasing of Bricktop, and the funny thing about it, Brick don't know what she's doing," and I don't because you see, I don't consider myself a singer. I run these places. That's my thing. And of course, people came and say "The boss is singing," then that's a great big deal. But like Cole Porter wrote "Day and Night" and "Love for Sale", and a lot of those, his great hits practically right in my place. I wasn't asked to sing them, and then Mabel Mercer, I brought Mabel working with me, and as she writes in her books, and she said, "I became a star at Bricktop's," which she did. But Mabel at that time had a beautiful singing voice, and she used to sing the song until Cole walked in one night and told me that he'd written "Miss Otis Regrets". Now, "Miss Otis Regrets" is one that you offer very, very dramatically, and it was written for you. Well, because that's the way that he rehearsed me in it, and I tell people, "Please. Out of respect for Mr. Cole Porter. Be quiet." But how could those, How would you interpret those lyrics? Think about this. Here is a mistress who kills her lover and then she's lynched. Now, this has all kind of implications, doesn't it? Well, they were still lynching people in those days, you see, and that's where when I said to Cole, "Where'd you get that title?" He said, "Well, someone got lynched the other day and you said, 'Well, they won't go up to lunch tomorrow.'" And that's where the title I had the impression, Brick, see if I'm right about this interpretation, I have the impression that Porter wrote the thing as though it were this white guy, an established guy in town, had a beautiful Black mistress, and she was Black! That's the way I interpret it, see. No, no, no -- I know, that's my interpretation -- And nothing to do with that. And using that word "Black," you know I don't allow it. No, you don't. You don't like "Black." I don't, I don't have anything against Black, it's just that all my life if you called someone Black, you had to fight him. Even though they were Black! It's changed now. Well, and nobody's going about-face me but God Almighty, and after fighting all up and down State Street and all up and down Seventh Avenue, New York, about that word Black, I'm not gonna come, come now. And I don't know what they're trying to prove, but if they want to use it, let 'em use it. But I, I just don't care for it. But what -- that interpretation of the song, though, see this -- But the interpretation of the song is that I thought of the lynching aspect, that's why I No, the thing about the whole thing was they were still lynching people in those days, and I guess they still are. Yeah, mostly, but mostly of a certain color, though. Yes, well, they were. They were, but you know one thing, Studs, is a lot of white people have been lynched, but they never wrote anything about it. Well, the ratio is a little higher, though, you must admit. Yes, well, that too is when Back to, back to you and the areas you knew. The South Side of Chicago, then New York, the nightclub areas, and then Paris. That's Which, of course, leads to your friendship with a remarkable and beloved artist came from St. Louis as you came from Illinois, went to Paris. Josephine Baker, of course. Well, Josephine came to Paris a year after I had been there, she was 19 years old, and for the public, I want to get it straight, Josephine died when she was 79 because I'm 11 years older than she and she arrived, you know, Josephine didn't come over -- Sixty-nine, you mean. In -- she was 69 years old. Yes. And, uh, Josephine originally wasn't supposed to be the star of the show, the star of the show was a girl named Maud de Forest, but Maud de Forest used to drink quite a bit, and when she'd drink, she'd lose her voice. So coming over on the ship, they decided to give Josephine a couple of things to do because, you know, Josephine was just a chorus girl, an N-girl in "Shuffle Along", and Maud, running true to form, lost her voice and they had to bring Josephine on stage. Well, they brought her on stage on the back of a big Negro from the Cameroons. And she had that bronze, beautiful, beautiful body. And when he put her down, the whole theater shook. The people scream and hollered and Josephine got so frightened she ran off stage and they had to carry her back on. But of course, Paris being Paris and the Frenchmen, you know what they think about beauty and things like that. Overnight, she became a sensation. Suppose we hear one of her songs. "J'Attendrai", this is one of which, for which she's noted. You want to sing along? [Like that? I can't?]. So we hear, we hear Josephine Baker, and at the time, you and she the two toasts of gay Paree. Well. [pause You know, Bricktop, in hearing Josephine Baker's voice, I want to ask you in a moment about memories that are evoked when you hear her voice and your thoughts of Paris at the time, you were the, one of the Queen Bees. In a moment we'll resume the program with Bricktop, who's appearing Thursdays, Fridays, Wednesday's? Tuesday's. Oh, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday nights at the Tango -- In the Belmont It's in the Belmont Hotel about oh, 10:45 is one show and, the other begins about 12:15 and, uh, we'll return. Un momento. [pause in recording] Resuming the conversation with Bricktop. I was thinking, Josephine Baker, in hearing her voice, I suppose -- Yes, but in later years, darling, Josephine's voice went up about four octaves, and that was one of her first, very, very first records, and even her French, she wasn't too sure about then, but then, Josephine arrived with no education or anything, I stopped her from signing autographs and I told her, "Get a stamp," and stamp 'em, but she died a woman that knew all about books and paintings and a very highly-educated girl and also became a great actress. Yeah. She was one of the most fantastic -- well, when I introduced her to Carnegie Hall two years ago. You did, you introduced her -- Well, the man who brought her over, he said, "Brick, I think it's fitting that you should introduce Josephine," well, you know, I, I'm scared to death if I even walk up three steps on a platform or anything like that. But I went out and I told the people. I said, "You know, I have no business being up here. I'm a saloonkeeper. And of course, everyone stood and screamed and hollered because they knew it's true. But Josephine came out and again, uh, she could -- like Louis Armstrong could never blow a bad note, Josephine Baker couldn't do wrong. She couldn't do wrong, she was such an artist. I notice on the album some liner notes by Janet Flanner, who writes for "The New Yorker", Paris Oh, Jan, Janet's a great friend. You know her, I thought she was. Yeah, well, Mem, a Mem Boucher, when I first arrived 1924 in Paris and in '25 he was working for "The New Yorker" at that time, and he wrote, he said, "Bricktop, a pale young, unspoiled beauty who sings and dances like a star." Well, when I went back and opened again in 1950 in Paris, Janet repeated that, she said, "And many times in the morning you could see the Prince of Wales and Mabel Mercer and Bricktop in mutual conversation with great respect." What years were you there, it was your place, "Bricktop's" in Paris. What was the, what were those years? I arrived in 1924 for six months, and when they took me to the place and they said, "This is where you're gonna work," well, it was a little room with 12 tables, and I said, "It's a nice bar, but where's the cabaret?" You know, in those years they called them cabarets, and they said, "This is it." Well, I burst into tears because I had just left Connie's Inn with Roy's, Leroy Smith's band, 11 pieces, and chorus girls behind me We should point out that Connie's Inn was a very great nightclub in New York Connie, Connie was, used to be a great client of mine down to Barron's, and I told him how to name the place Connie's Inn and everything, well, working at this place, The Grand Duke in Paris when I arrived, was a boy named Jimmy Hughes who really was our great, great, great, God rest his soul, Langston Hughes. And he wrote in one of his books, a couple years later -- He It was Langston Hughes, but we didn't know it, we only knew him by Jimmy Hughes, and he wrote in one of his books a couple of years later, he said "Brick cried when she found out she gonna work 12 tables," he said. "But two years later, when she had all the royalty of Europe at her tables, she wasn't crying." So that was the club. That was also the time when many of the American writers were there, you know Oh, I should say, they were all over. But they were over in Montparnasse. Had all the writers there, and Scott and Zelda used to always say that -- You say Scott and Zelda, you knew them. Oh, personally! Oh, Scott! I can tell you some stories about Scott, but that's nobody's business. Well, Scott used to always say, "I knew Brick before Cole Porter did." And he did. He knew me the year before. But Scott had a way that, well, he was the sweetest boy in the world. But he was just like a child. He jumped in the pond once out to the Lido, out on the Champs-Elysees, and Zelda jumped in behind him, and they had to call the police. And in the confusion, Zelda got away and went home. And when the police wanted to lock Scott up, he said, "You can't lock me up. I'm a friend of Bricktop's," and the police said, "Bricktop's? Madame Bricktop wouldn't know anyone like you." And he says, "Well, take me." So they brought him over to the place. And there he was dripping wet, and he couldn't come inside, and the gendarme said to me, "Do you know this man?" And I said yes. "So you can have him." You, you -- well, Scott had a thing, and I used to say to him, "Now, Scott, you've had enough to drink. You got to go home." He'd say, "I'll only go home if you take me." Well, taking him home is like going from here to Evanston. So I'd take him home and he'd get there and he'd say, "Oh, Bricky, please. Can I go back and have one more bottle?" And I'd take him back. Well, then it got to the point with Michael Farmer, who later married Gloria Swanson, all the clients wanted to be taken home. That became my thing, takin' You were sort of the mother image. Until it got to the point where somebody had, someone had to take me home! I was having a few myself. You know, when someone, someone else dropping these names as you do, I'd say, "Oh, God," but in your case, it's the most natural thing in the world. Of course! It's like breathing. Darling, they're the only people since I, since I went to Paris and Cole Porter made "Bricktop," they were the only people that I was associated with that came in, into "Bricktop's." And Hemingway had difficulty getting in sometimes. Well, Hemingway didn't get in that much. I wasn't that crazy about Hemingway, because he was very mean to Scott. And he was also mean to another dear friend that stayed, a writer named Bob McAlmon. But I -- The friend of Kay Boyle, Robert McAlmon. Oh, well, have you read Kay's book? "Genius is All"? Oh, you know that one. But I know Kay, I mean, when she wrote a book, well, when she wrote in the book and she said, "And then we got to Brick's and Bricktop, who, you know, after I was really introduced into Paris, Mistinguett was supposed to have the most beautiful feet and legs in the world, well, the French papers started to write "Mistinguett does not have the most beautiful feet and legs in the world, they belong to a little mulatta up in Montmartre named Bricktop," and Kay wrote very lovingly about me. I see her every time I go to San Francisco. She's, she's quite a remarkable, gallant woman. She's just, she's a terrific woman. She's just terrific woman. So the writers came, the, and, uh, the members of the royalty came. Well, the writers came -- Fannie Ward, you know, really was a -- and Jack Dean her husband. Fannie Ward? Yeah, the great old actress. You mean Fannie Ward, who -- The actress who had the facelift. Who She

Studs Terkel Who was about 90, looked about 20?

Bricktop Yes, well, she was one of the people, first people who have a face lift, and Jack had his lifted before she did to find out how it would act and things like that. Well, they were some of the first people to really bring people in the place. But then when Cole discovered me, he took me to Venice and back, and then I had my first place of my own.

Studs Terkel Would some of these barons and dukes and earls, they'd chase you around the table, too,

Bricktop No, no, no, no, no, not at all. I was always too smart for that. You must remember, darling, I was half the size I am now, and a pretty cute kid, but I've

Studs Terkel You're pretty cute at this moment,

Bricktop Well, I've had a thing that I've lived by all my life. I never fool around with my clients. That's, that's a bad thing. First thing you do, you lose a good client. And secondly, then the client gets embarrassed, they don't want to come around and things, so I've, I've never done that. But this story they're writing now that Farouk

Studs Terkel Farouk, well, he couldn't very well catch you anyway with all his weight and everything, couldn't

Bricktop Well, he wasn't that big, but I can tell you he was a very fascinating man.

Studs Terkel Tell me about your accompanist now. You also have a marvelous way of choosing your colleagues. I mean, Hugh Shannon

Bricktop Now, you see, Hugh came to work for me in 1950, and I'll never forget the first time, the first big party that Hugh was ever on of those kind -- sort of people. The Duke and the Duchess were coming back from New York and ah, Schiaparelli told the Duke's secretary, "Well, if you want to please his Highness, you better have Bricktop at that party." So Hugh was working in my place and I took him along, but I took along also my other pianist that had the orchestra, because I knew he was gonna be nervous because that was his first time in life of being thrown in with these sort of people. So, uh, he went along and when I sing and when I used to sing and then the Duke always used to sit down on the floor at my feet and carry on, and we were leaving and I heard these feet behind, and the Duke was running, he said, "Brick," he said, "Where were you born?" And I said, "Sire," because I always called him "Sire," you know, I said, "I was born in West Virginia." He said, "That's what I told the Duchess when we were down in the Greenbrier playing golf last week, that Brick was born around here somewhere." You know, he never forgot a face or a person.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about Shannon

spk_1 So Hugh was working there with me and ah, then that's where he met his wife, Betty, she was married to Arturo [sic - Alberto] Dodero, she was divorced from Arturo [sic - Alberto] and she was married to Alan -- I forget this fellow's name, he was a actor [Alan Curtis], and then she said to me, "What are you doing with that blond blue singer in 'Bricktop's'? He doesn't belong in this class. He's, he does" -- I said, "Betty, he's a very good artist and things," and, and Hugh said to me, "Who does she think she is?" And they couldn't stand each other. But then they all went down to the Virgin Islands and they fell in love and got married.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of the manner in which he and you work together, the

Bricktop Well, that's what I'm trying to talk to you, see, before Hugh never played piano for me. And after Betty died and he came to Rome and worked with me again in my place, we used to only do a couple of songs together like "Paper Moon" or something. But then here in last October, Hugh called me up in New York and he said, "Bricky, come and look at this place, '[Seraphi? Seraphia? Sarafia?]'," and I said, "Oh, Hugh, I don't want nothing to do with a nightclub. No." He said, "Just come and look." So I went and looked and you see, I worked, they say "Bricktop"

Studs Terkel [Sarabia?]'d you say?

Bricktop Yes.

Studs Terkel In New York?

Bricktop Yeah.

Studs Terkel I was at that joint. I would -- you weren't -- this is -- you were looking at it I guess at the time I was there.

Bricktop When were you there?

Studs Terkel For food. About a few years ago. A number of years ago.

Bricktop No, well, this is just last October. I looked and you know, I have an agent. He's the man upstairs and he sends me the vibes, and when the bell rings in the back of my head, it means for me to do it. So I spoke to the man about money and he said, "I can't afford you." I said, "What can you afford?" And he told me, and the bell rang in the back of the head, so I said, "OK, fine." Well, Hugh and I went to work there and we brought people out that hadn't been out for 15 or 20 years in night-- in nightclubs, it was a big, big success. And then George Badonsky, who owns the Tango, came in one night and said, "I've got to bring you to Chicago," so I said, "Well, I want to bring along Hugh."

Studs Terkel Suppose we hear Hugh singing "Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor", Cole Porter

Bricktop -- Yes, it's one of his better ones.

Studs Terkel One of his, and he's doing this while you're sitting at one of the tables there, listening to Hugh and also

Bricktop -- I always listen to him, because I like

Studs Terkel Well, here he is. [pause in recording]

Bricktop Mr.

Studs Terkel And so it's that marvelous, boozy, two o'clock in the morning

Bricktop Yes, yes, he's one of the greatest saloon singers of all time. I told Jack Teagarden in Paris, Jack came in the place and I told him, "I got a white boy can cut you." He said, "Not singing the blues." I said, "Wait a minute." So I didn't tell Hugh that Jack Teagarden was in the place, until he came off because Hugh couldn't have been, wouldn't have been able to sing, you know. So I went over to Jack and I said, "What do you say?" He said, "Uh, I hear you got good taste, Bricky, he's pretty good."

Studs Terkel There's that great lyric, he has a Cole Porter lyric there, something "Down

Bricktop No one has ever

Studs Terkel "In my regal eagle's

Bricktop Like Cole. But no one

Studs Terkel -- "Legal eagle's nest."

Bricktop No one, no one, they just don't have the idea about lyrics like Porter. Of course, I'm a Irving Berlin fan, but a personal friend, too. I adore Irving, he's such a nice man.

Studs Terkel But I'm thinking of uh, you now the world, jazzmen whom you helped come

Bricktop Well, I haven't helped too many jazz people. I, I have

Studs Terkel Well, the Duke. Ellington.

Bricktop Well, that's the greatest, you know, when Duke died and, a man called me up and he was very indignant, he said, "I didn't see you at Duke's funeral." I said, "Look, you know, I've been in front of a camera all my life, too. I was at Mass offering him up my communion. I think that's much more important." And that's what was happening.

Studs Terkel You were looking up the, the Black saint. I should have, I should have played part

Bricktop St. Martin de

Studs Terkel I should have played a part of uh, Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's "Four Saints in Three Acts".

Bricktop Yes.

Studs Terkel In it is what -- the saint you're talking about.

Bricktop Well, now, you talk about a character. Gertie. She -- "A rose is not a rose is not a rose is not a rose." What a woman!

Studs Terkel You didn't know her.

Bricktop Who, Gertrude Stein? But she was in Paris at that time, darling!

Studs Terkel You knew

Bricktop Gertie was over on the Left Bank with all those, with Hemingway and all those people at that time. Oh, what a character! What a character! She could hold, you know, and there were two different sets of people. I used to remember then, after Cole discovered me, then came all the royalty and things like that. But every once in a while, Gertie or somebody from the Left Bank would come over, and they'd, someone would say, "That's Gertrude Stein, get her going, get 'er goin', Brick!" And I said, "I wouldn't dare! Well, if she got going, she -- 'cause she was fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. Yeah, I've known them all, sweetheart. I, in my like when David Hanna was doing my book and I wanted to talk about Jack Diamond, he said, "Brick, you can't talk about Jack

Studs Terkel --" You mean, Jack "Legs" Diamond?

Bricktop Yes, I

Studs Terkel said, You

Bricktop I loved him! I adored [just?]

Studs Terkel You mean the

Bricktop The gangster was killed, loved [Joe?], Jack and his brother Eddie and his wife, Alice. You know, when Jack came over to Paris in 1928 or nine, and you know, Mabel Ball was called the Diamond Queen, and she come running in my place and she said, "Oh, Bricky," said, "I just had to leave Chez Florence, because you know that Jack Diamond is over there." So I said, "Come on, Mimsy," I said, "Jack is not

Studs Terkel "Mimsy"?

Bricktop That's

Studs Terkel Uh?

Bricktop I said "Jack's not over here to rob anybody or anything like that," and the door opened and who walked in but Jack and his wife, Alice. So Alice walked over to Ball and she picks up her arm, and Ball had on 90 bracelets, you know, those diamond bracelet things, she said, "You old broad, you, who you think wants any of that old junk? You weren't wearing around there" -- oh, but Jack was a great gentleman. Really.

Studs Terkel Let me get this. I'm thinking of your list of acquaintances, from the Duke, from the Prince of Wales to Jack "Legs" Diamond, from Gertrude Stein to Mimsy Ball, and to kings, to Farouk! And I think it should be from Scott Fitzgerald to Farouk.

Bricktop Well, that's what it is, it really is from Scott -- it really, but I knew Jack here in New York because he used to come up to Barron Wilkins' all the time.

Studs Terkel Well, tell me, because the question they ask you very often, you are now on the sunny side of

Bricktop No, I'm 80.

Studs Terkel You are 80.

Bricktop I am 80. I'll be 81 in August.

Studs Terkel And you work two, two shows a night, four nights a week, and the energy is -- where does it come from? Your vitality?

Bricktop I don't know, darling, you know, um, David Susskind once, we were doing a big benefit in the Mews, Washington Mews in New York, and Arlene Francis had been on, and Hildegard had been on, and everyone had been on, and it was pouring raining. I went on and the rain just stopped, and when I came off Susskind said to me, "Brick, what makes you tick?" I said, "I'd like to know myself, because really, darling, when I look sometime at me on television, I say, 'Who is that broad up there?' I don't, I don't know Bricktop. I really don't. I know Ada Smith, but"

Studs Terkel Who is Ada Smith? Who

Bricktop That's me. Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith.

Studs Terkel Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria

Bricktop I had a terrific, wonderful mother. I had a mother that told her children, "Think big and you'll do big," and then I'm an August-born Leo so you know, I don't know no other way to think. I don't know. And that's the way my life has ran big.

Studs Terkel Well, what does an August-born Leo do?

Bricktop Well, you know, the lion, darling, he roars, and we control all of you other people.

Studs Terkel Well, you

Bricktop Well, a man wrote once, and he said, "Brick is really a lion all right, because when she walks out on the floor, that's it."

Studs Terkel Well, there's no doubt that you have incredible, absolute possession of that room and of the people there, and they all stand up and give you a standing ovation at the end, you know,

Bricktop Friday night a week ago we had five standing

Studs Terkel But I'm trying to understand, your voice is not Beverly

Bricktop No, it's never been a

Studs Terkel voice. Your voice is not

Bricktop I've never been a singer. I've never been

Studs Terkel Well, what is it

Bricktop And I'm not even dancing now.

Studs Terkel What is it makes them stand up?

Bricktop I don't know. I don't know. I really don't. I told you, I don't know this broad. I don't know who she is.

Studs Terkel I'll tell you what I think it is. It's that you represent a vitality and an absolute openness and a freedom that is very rare indeed. That makes you quite a remarkable hostess.

Bricktop Well, you can bet that I am myself. I don't pull any punches about anything. Like sometimes when people are out of line, I tell 'em, I'm not shushing you for the artist. I'm shushing you for the other people who came in here to hear the artist. Now, if you don't want to hear the artist, buy a bottle and go home, it's cheaper." And when they say, "Well, give me the bill," I say, "No, have it on me. You can get out quicker." And I've never had a bouncer in my life.

Studs Terkel You never had a bouncer?

Bricktop Never, never, never, never, never.

Studs Terkel It's incredible. So I'm thinking, when you had that club, along the Montparnasse -- no, Montmartre!

Bricktop Montmartre, Montmartre

Studs Terkel That's the Right Bank.

Bricktop Montmartre,

Studs Terkel And I tried to get in, I'd be booted out on my

Bricktop Oh, you couldn't get in dressed like that. Oh, no, love. And you're dressed up as far as the way they dress these days and times. But you know, when the Olympics were on in the fifth, it was '59, and a boy and a girl was coming in and I stopped them, I said, "Wait a minute, where you going?" Said "We're going in here." I said, "Not dressed like that. Go home, have a bath and put on some clothe." They had on dirty old white sneakers and things, so this boy said, "Who's stopping?" And I said, "I." He said, "I thought this was an American place." I said, "That's why you can't come in looking like that."

Studs Terkel You, uh, one before we hear one more of Shannon, I know, I realize that you and I can have this conver-- you could talk to, this can go for hours 'cause you're so filled with these stories and anecdotes, we'll have one more Hugh Shannon number, "Baltimore Oriole", but one last question. Do you take a dim view of the younger generation?

Bricktop No, I don't. I, I take only this view. You know, since I've opened at the Tango, a lot of kids that I have worked that in my time, like Eloise Bennett and Edith Wilson, who was the ad on Aunt Jemima pancake thing for years and years and years, we all grew up on State Street entertaining in different places. And if we had, like a teaspoon full of gin in a whole glass of orange juice, we were raising the Devil, and now when I see these kids, when I look and see children of 10 years old with habits and things like that, it's a pretty frightening and very sad. Very, very, very, very sad. The whole world is turned around, and it was another thing. All the -- well, the pimps and the whores that were around that I was brought up with, they were never trying to introduce any kids even in to smoke a cigarette, but the whole, the whole picture has changed. But we're in a cycle, and we have to ride it out.

Studs Terkel Well, there, there's Bricktop. Maybe we'll

Bricktop We have to ride it out.

Studs Terkel A world one day with people with the vitality of Bricktop will be quite a world, and I think that it's quite an experience. You're at the Tango, you and Hugh, and after Hugh Shannon leaves, your friend

Bricktop Jimmy Bennett.

Studs Terkel A marvelous guy, Jimmy Bennett, you're gonna do some "Carmen",

Bricktop Gonna do "Carmen", "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "The Party's Over." Jimmy is an opera singer, but he's a born comedian. He's, he's terrific. And then Gerald Cook, you know, whom you know, that played for years with Libby Holman, he's coming to play piano.

Studs Terkel A marvelous musician.

Bricktop Yes.

Studs Terkel In any event, there's Bricktop and colleagues at the Tango, it's in the Belmont Hotel. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Bricktop I'll be there until the end of June

Studs Terkel To the end of June. And

Bricktop And I'll be back in the fall, and I'm moving back to Chicago.

Studs Terkel You are?

Bricktop Oh, yes. I haven't got many more years

Studs Terkel Oh, you'll make the year 2000.

Bricktop No, no, no, no, no. I don't want to.

Studs Terkel Don't

Bricktop You know, my great friend Bishop Sheen says he wants to die at 80. Well, I'm already 80, and I only want eight more years.

Studs Terkel Don't you want to hit the year 2000?

Bricktop No, sweetheart. Oh, no. I've had it. And I've loved every minute of it.

Studs Terkel You say you've had it! May I say, you've got it!

Bricktop Thank you. Thank you very

Studs Terkel Okay. Here, then. "Baltimore Oriole" with Hugh Shannon sings it. In a sense you are that bird. Bricktop. Thank you very much.

Bricktop Well, thank you, darling, for having me on the program.