Bricktop’s Sacrifice Blazed A Trail All The Way Around The World

Portrait of Bricktop
Shonda Buchanan
August 6, 2020

Exhausted, hungry and broke, she choked down the queasy feeling in her stomach and stumbled into the stuffy, dark Le Grand Duc. Hot tears burst from her. The Paris club was dingy with broken chairs and sticky floors. Could she sing here?

Would she be forced to return to America and clean white people’s houses like her mother?

“You alright?” A server handed her a plate of chicken and dumplings. It was Langston Hughes. Ada Smith, nicknamed “Bricktop” for her red hair, couldn’t stop crying. 

Would she fail?

No! This trained cabaret and vaudeville performer’s Black excellence packed the house! Cole Porter even asked her to teach dance steps at his parties. Her fame spread! 

But would she make a living?

In 1926, she became the first Black woman to open a jazz club in France! Josephine Baker, Jack Johnson, Harlem Renaissance writers and musicians, and Parisian aristocrats turned Chez Bricktop into the rave of Europe.

For all of her dynamism, though, she couldn’t stop the coming war. 

But Bricktop had escaped Jim Crow - could she escape the Nazis, too?

Just barely! She was smuggled out of France on a steamship just before the German invasion and lost everything.

But she wasn’t defeated. She opened clubs in Mexico, Rome, and Beirut, still determining her fate and achieving Black Excellence.

Bricktop escaped racism and built a life through hard work and sheer determination to succeed.

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