Alberta Hunter was an influential African American Jazz performer from the 1920s to the 1950s, worked as a nurse from 1956 to 1977, and continued her musical career until her death. She had a tumultuous home life, and when she was eleven, Alberta ran away from home and moved to Chicago. She became fascinated by the city’s night life and began sneaking into clubs to watch the jazz singers. She was sixteen when she performed for the first time at a club in Chicago’s Southside. Alberta spent the next two years there before moving on to a string of nightclubs that catered to the wealthy elite. Only eight years after her first performance, Hunter was a well known celebrity throughout Chicago and had to pay careful attention to her reputation, especially the rumor of her lesbianism. In the early 1900s, there were very few openly gay or lesbian performers, and many tried to conceal their identities. Hunter even went so far as to marry Willard Saxby Townsend, who worked as a waiter at one of the bars she performed at. They were only married for two months before he filed for divorce.
It was around this time that she began recording for Black Swan and Paramount records and performing on Broadway, which prompted her move to New York where she lived with Lottie Tyler, her long term partner. This put her in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance, in both her professional and personal lives. She is regarded as one of the biggest talents to emerge during this era and maintain their popularity through the 20th century. Her talent took her to Europe, performing in England and France where her popularity only soared. As an African American performer, there were more opportunities for her outside of the United States.
Following the end of the Korean War, shifts in popular music made work hard to find. Due to this and the sudden loss of her mother, she changed careers in the 50s. She became a licensed nurse after graduating from the Harlem YWCA nursing school. She worked as a nurse for over two decades, where she was never late for work and never took a sick day, before being forced to retire in 1977 by hospital officials. They thought she was seventy, but she’d lied about her age when applying to medical school and was actually eighty-two at the time of her retirement. After retiring, she continued her musical career as a cabaret singer, leading to a recording contract with Columbia Records and performances at Carnegie Hall and the White House for President Carter.
About LGBTQ+ of FIRST
LGBTQ+ of FIRST is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ participants in FIRST Robotics. LGBTQ+ of FIRST was started to spread visibility of the LGBTQ+ community within FIRST and help teams become safe spaces for their members.