Entertainer Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia ‘‘Bricktop’’ Smith (August 14, 1894-January 31, 1984) was born at Alderson. At five, red-haired little Ada made her stage debut in a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Chicago. At 16 she performed on the vaudeville circuit. Soon afterward New York saloon keeper Barron Wilkins gave her the nickname ‘‘Bricktop’’ for her red hair, unusual for an African-American.
Smith performed in Paris in 1924, where Cole Porter is said to have written the song ‘‘Miss Otis Regrets She’s Unable to Lunch Today’’ for her. In 1926, she opened a Paris club called the Music Box, soon succeeded by another club called Bricktop’s.
Smith married musician Peter Duconge in 1929. She opened a much larger Bricktop’s in 1931, where Porter performed in 1932. She made radio broadcasts in France in 1938–39; then returned to the United States as Nazi Germany began expanding across Europe. Her only recording, ‘‘So Long, Baby,’’ was made with Cy Coleman in 1970. Ada ‘‘Bricktop’’ Smith Duconge’s autobiography, Bricktop, cowritten with James Haskins, was published in 1983, just before her death in New York City. She will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in November 2013.
This Article was written by R. F. Hendricks
Last Revised on May 15, 2013
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
Smith, Ada & James Haskins. Bricktop. New York: Atheneum, 1983.