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Who is Hazel Scott? Alicia Keys shouts-out a legendary double piano player

A 1968 publicity photo of Hazel Scott.
(Los Angeles Times)

Those with keen ears might have noticed that during Alicia Keys’ beguiling Grammy Awards performance, which she began sitting side-saddle between two pianos to play Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” she mentioned Hazel Scott.

With that brief shout out, Keys acknowledged an expert pianist who made a career out of the maneuver, an entertainer and movie star whose accomplishments made her a household name during her prime.

Trinidadian by birth, Scott had her own TV show in the early 1950s. A fierce advocate against segregation, she sued a restaurant owner in Washington state for refusing to seat her and a companion.

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For a time she was married to famed New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Her outspoken politics likely prompted her presence on the so-called “black list” of musicians thought to have communist ties, an accusation she denied when voluntarily testifying during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings during the Cold War.

Most impressive, as evidenced above, she was a bad-ass pianist whose skills and determination earned her attention then and now.

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email: randall.roberts@latimes.com.


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