I first heard of Bricktop years ago while reading Paris Noir. I was travelling there soon and was preparing for a walking tour. Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, better known as Bricktop, was born in 1894. Her unconventional entrepreneurial journey was as firey as her famous natural red hair. The nightclub owner wore a pistol and a smile using each as needed to establish her place among her historic contemporaries. Bricktop worked in vaudeville and in Harlem as a dancer, jazz singer, and became a ‘saloon-keeper’ who owned the nightclub Chez Bricktop in Paris located on La rue Blanche, a long street on Montmartre (a large hill on the right bank) from 1924 to 1961. La rue Blanche is known for the rows of white (blanche) buildings that aligned it.
Chez Bricktop was a sojourn for WWI African American soldiers who remained in the area after introducing jazz to Europe and later for other expats, entertainers, soul food chefs, etc…who’s artistry was highly appreciated by their patrons. Bricktop was a conduit for so many Black artists who went to Paris to escape discrimination, became celebrated the world over and, in some cases, were later partially accepted in America. Think Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Mabel Mercer, etc... That said, During WWII Bricktop returned to the US to capitalize on her own Parisian success, but to no avail. She re-embraced her international lifestyle by opening nightclubs in Mexico City, Paris and Rome but none were as big a splash as Chez Bricktop. She closed her businesses in 1961, settled in America and continued to perform as a singer well into her 80’s. In 1984, Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith died in New York City at the age of 89. Most recently, I was ecstatic to see my good friend, Gabrielle Lee, portrayed Bricktop in a one woman biopic musical that was part of the National Black Theatre Festival in 2019. Her influence lives on in today's performers.
-Gabrielle Lee wearing LISAMCFADDEN MILLINER vintage cloches.