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Ada "Bricktop" Smith photograph collection

Collection Data

The Ada "Bricktop" Smith Photograph Collection documents some aspects of her personal life and professional career, from the 1890s to the early 1980s.The collection includes studio and candid portraits of Bricktop, some members of her family and friends; views of the activities of individuals who patronized or performed at her nightclubs in Paris and Rome; and views of Bricktop during her later years after her return to the United States. The collection has no images of her Paris club, The Music Box, from the mid-1920s, or of her American and Mexican clubs from the 1940s.Personal and family photographs include Bricktop, as an infant, in a group portrait with her mother and relatives (ca. 1894); a photo collage of Bricktop and her mother (1915); some portraits of her as a young woman before moving to Paris (1913-1924); her mother and sister, Ethel; Bricktop and her husband, saxophonist Peter Duconge, in Paris (1929); and an undated snapshot of Bricktop, Peter and a group of friends at an outdoor restaurant.Images of Bricktop during her later years include views of her doing charity work in Naples, Italy, after World War II, and at an unidentified children's hospital in Denver, Colorado; audiences with Popes Pius XII (1957), John XXIII (1961) and Paul VI (1964); visiting with director Robert Wise and actress Julie Andrews on the set of the film "Star" (1967); snapshots of her 80th birthday party in Chicago (1974); being honored on "Bricktop Day" in Chicago (1978); meeting with songwriter Otis Blackwell and others gathered to present her with a citation (1978); and with a group of friends in her New York apartment (ca. 1980). Included in this series are various portraits, group portraits and snapshots of friends, some of which depict parties and social gatherings, including views of Bricktop and actor Errol Flynn clowning at a party for Flynn's wife, Pat, in Naples, Italy (1952).Images of Bricktop's career as an entertainer and as hostess and proprieter of Bricktop's include a group portrait of her, with Jelly Roll Morton and others, outside the Cadillac Cafe in Los Angeles (1917); posing outside the Cafe Le Grand Duc, where she performed (1925); group portraits of her posing with entertainers and customers in her club, Bricktop's, in Paris, including Mabel Mercer, Spencer Williams, Fats Waller, and Louis Bromfield (1932); an undated view of the front of her club, spelled on the marquee as Brick Top's; views and group portraits of her chatting, singing to and posing with patrons in her re-opened Bricktop's in Paris (1950), and at Bricktop's in Rome (dated 1951-1962); and views of her singing at the casino at Estoril, Portugal (1952), and at various locations in New York City and Boston (1975, 1979). Among her patrons at the 1950 Bricktop's in Paris are Elizabeth Taylor, Duke Ellington, Salvador Dali, Arturo Lopez Willshaw, Burgess Meredith, Lena Horne, and Barbara Hutton; her patrons at Bricktop's in Rome include Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Bennie Barnes, Clifton Webb, Louis Bellson and Pearl Baily, with whom Bricktop is shown performing (1957).A portion of the collection consists of portraits and group portraits, some of which are publicity stills and autographed to Bricktop, of celebrities, public figures, Roman Catholic clergy, and friends. Among these are images of singers Ray Charles, Odetta and Tony Bennett, diplomat Ralph Bunche, performer Josephine Baker, composer Cole Porter, New York City mayor Ed Koch, and Bricktop's goddaughter, Tiberia Mitri. Also included is a group of photographs of the Moses sisters, Julia, Ethel and Lucia, who were stage performers.
Bricktop, 1894-1984 (Collector)
Bettini (Photographer)
Felici, Guglielmo (Photographer)
Engle, Morey, 1923- (Photographer)
Ross, Raymond (Photographer)
Smith, Marvin, 1910-2003 (Photographer)
Jones, Roger, Prof. (Photographer)
Mollberger, Bertil (Photographer)
Haun, Declan (Photographer)
Ottica Fotografia (Photographer)
Foto Partenope (Naples, Italy) (Photographer)
Interpanoramic Photo (Rome, Italy) (Photographer)
Dates / Origin
Date Issued: 1890 - 1983 (Questionable)
Library locations
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division
Shelf locator: Sc Photo Ada "Bricktop" Smith Collection
Bricktop, 1894-1984
Andrews, Julie
Bailey, Pearl
Baker, Josephine, 1906-1975
Barnes, Bennie
Bellson, Louie, 1924-2009
Bennett, Tony, 1926-
Blackwell, Otis
Bromfield, Louis, 1896-1956
Bunche, Ralph J.(Ralph Johnson), 1904-1971
Charles, Ray, 1930-2004
Dalí, Salvador, 1904-1989
Duconge, Peter
Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974
Flynn, Errol, 1909-1959
Gould, Elliott
Hartford, Huntington, 1911-2008
Horne, Lena
Hutton, Barbara, 1912-1979
XXIII,Pope, John, 1881-1963
Kitt, Eartha
Koch, Ed, 1924-2013
Mercer, Mabel, 1900-1984
Meredith, Burgess, 1907-1997
Morton, Jelly Roll, -1941
Moses, Ethel
Moses, Julia
Moses, Lucia Lynn, 1908-
Odetta, 1930-2008
VI,Pope, Paul, 1897-1978
XII,Pope, Pius, 1876-1958
Porter, Cole, 1891-1964
Shannon, Hugh
Sheen, Fulton J.(Fulton John), 1895-1979
Taylor, Elizabeth, 1932-2011
Waller, Fats, 1904-1943
Webb, Clifton, 1893-1966
Welles, Orson, 1915-1985
Wilder, Billy, 1906-2002
Williams, Spencer, 1889-1965
Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983
Willshaw, Arturo Lopez
Wise, Robert, 1914-2005
Nightclubs -- France -- Paris
Nightclubs -- Italy -- Rome
African American business enterprises -- France -- Paris
African American business enterprises -- Italy -- Rome
Women-owned business enterprises -- France -- Paris
Women-owned business enterprises -- Italy -- Rome
African American entertainers
African Americans -- France -- Paris
African Americans -- Italy -- Rome
Socialites -- France -- Paris
Soicalites -- Italy -- Rome
Publicity photographs
Content: Some items have photographer's or photography studio's handstamp on verso; some items have photographer's name printed on recto; some items have photographer's blindstamp on recto; some items have photographer's name printed on verso and recto of matte; some items have photographer's name typewritten on verso; one item has photographer's signature on recto.
Content: Many items have handwritten captions or notations on either verso or recto; some items are inscribed on recto; some items have printed captions on either verso or recto.
Content: Some items are duplicates; some items are reproductions.
Creation/production credits: Collection contains work by Raymond Ross, Carlo Riccardi, Morris A. Engle, D. Rousse, Ottica Fotografia, Bettini, and Marvin Smith, among others.
Biographical/historical: Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia "Bricktop" Smith, entertainer and nightclub owner, was born August 14, 1894 in Alderson, West Virginia. At a young age she began to perform on stage, and as a young woman, during the 1910s, she began to sing and dance full-time with the Theater Owners' Booking Association (TOBA) and Pantage vaudeville circuits. She was nicknamed "Bricktop" because of her bright red hair. She worked ina variety of locations including Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York and at Chicago's Panama Cafe, where, with Florence Mills and Cora Green, she formed the Panama Trio.
Biographical/historical: In 1924, Bricktop moved to Paris to perform at the Cafe Le Grand Duc. She befriended members of the American expatriate and European elite, including Josephine Baker, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter. In 1926, she opened her own nightclub, the Music Box, for which she failed to get an operating license, after which she reopened Le Grand Duc as Bricktop's. In 1931 she moved Bricktop's to 66 Rue Pigalle, with Mabel Mercer as the main attraction. Her nightclubs were a focal point for the glamorous nightlife for both blacks and whites in Paris during the late 1920s and 1930s. However, an economic depression in Paris in the mid-1930s hurt business, and the coming of World War II in the late 1930s prompted many Americans, including Bricktop, to leave Europe, but not before she did radio broadcasts for the French government in 1938-1939. During her stay in Paris she was briefly married to New Orleans saxophonist Peter Duconge from 1929-1932.
Biographical/historical: Back in the United States, Bricktop co-owned the Brittwood Cafe in New York, which failed. After the failure of a similar club, Minuit and Chavez's, in Mexico City, she returned to Paris in 1949. Since Paris, after the war, was a changed city, the reopened Bricktop's lasted barely a year (1950) and she moved the club to Rome in the early 1950s. She continued to attract an international clientele to her club before retiring from the nightlife in 1964. She moved back to New York by the 1970s and resumed her singing career through the early 1980s. In 1972, she made her only recording, "So Long Baby," with Cy Coleman. She died in 1984 in New York City.
Citation/reference: Forms part of the Ada Beatrice "Bricktop" Smith Papers, 1926-1983.
Physical Description
Extent: 777 items (1.9 lin. ft., 5 boxes)
Extent: 343 photographic prints :silver gelatin, b&w ;21 x 26 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 218 photographic prints :silver gelatin, b&w ;26 x 21 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 36 photographic prints :silver gelatin, b&w ;36 x 28 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 85 photographic prints :col. ;27 x 21 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 61 photographic prints :col. ;9 x 9 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 17 photographic postcards :b&w ;14 x 9 cm.
Extent: 11 photographic postcards :b&w ;11 x 15 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 5 photomechanical prints :halftone, b&w ;30 x 21 cm. and smaller.
Extent: 1 photocopy :b&w ;20 x 22 cm.
Organized into two series: I. Personal, 189?-1983; II. Professional, 1910s-1970s.
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b13633955
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 0df1fff0-e41e-0135-02b8-5dd5ea654018
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