Ada "Bricktop" Smith
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, better known as Bricktop (August 14 1894 – February 1 1984) was an American dancer, singer, vaudevillian, and self-described saloon-keeper who owned the nightclub Chez Bricktop in Paris from 1924 to 1961, as well as clubs in Mexico City and Rome. She has been called "...one of the most legendary and enduring figures of twentieth-century American cultural history."
By 1924, she was in Paris. Cole Porter hosted many parties, "lovely parties" as Bricky called them, where he hired her as an entertainer, often to teach his guests the latest dance craze such as the Charleston and the Black Bottom. In Paris, Bricktop began operating the clubs where she performed, including The Music Box and Le Grand Duc. She called her next club "Chez Bricktop," and in 1929 she relocated it to 66 rue Pigalle. Her headliner was a young Mabel Mercer, who was to become a legend in cabaret.
Bricktop broadcast a radio program in Paris from 1938-39, for the French government. She left Paris during World War II.
Known for her signature cigars, the "doyenne of cafe society" drew many celebrated figures to her club, including Cole Porter, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her proteges included Duke Ellington, Mabel Mercer and Josephine Baker. She worked with Langston Hughes when he was still a busboy. The Cole Porter song, "Miss Otis Regrets," was written for her to perform, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli wrote a song called "Brick Top", and she has been written about by Fitzgerald, Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh and T. S. Eliot.
Bricktop made a brief cameo appearance, as herself, in Woody Allen's 1983 mockumentary film Zelig, in which she "reminisced" about a visit by Leonard Zelig to her club, and an unsuccessful attempt by Cole Porter to find a rhyme for "You're the tops, you're Leonard Zelig." She also appeared in the 1974 film Honeybaby, Honeybaby, where she played herself operating a "Bricktop's" in Beirut, Lebanon.
In 1972, Bricktop made her only recording, "So Long Baby," with Cy Coleman. She preferred not to be called a singer or dancer, but rather a performer.
She wrote her autobiography, Bricktop by Bricktop, with the help of James Haskins, the prolific author who wrote biographies of Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks. It was published in 1983 by Welcome Rain Publishers (ISBN 0-689-11349-8), and is "...crammed with anecdotes about the rich, powerful, and famous," including John Barrymore, Jelly Roll Morton, Jack Johnson, Legs Diamond, John Steinbeck, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, and "...a dazzling array of kings and princes."
Bricktop died in her sleep in her apartment on New York City's West Side in 1984.