Like many other counties during World War Two, Warwickshire rallied around its wounded soldiers, holding large parties and shows in an effort to keep their spirits up.1 Entertainment at these events could include games and competitions, comedy shows and ventriloquists acts, or performances by singers (amateur or professional). Often celebrities would visit the troops on their tours across the country, bringing laughter and music to the wounded.
One such performer was Adelaide Hall, an African American vocalist and dancer, described by some as ‘the real first lady of jazz‘.
‘To get all the people to sing…’
While she was born in Brooklyn, New York, Adelaide Hall’s career spanned continents and she toured widely in America and Europe. She became a familiar face in Coventry Hippodrome in the early 1940s. However, it was the Second World War which brought Adelaide Hall’s jazz performances to Leamington and Warwick.
She, like everyone in Europe at the time, was not immune to the dangers of the war. She had lived in London during the Blitz, and later recalled: ‘I entertained in underground shelters when we had air raids. People really loved that. Sometimes I had to sing without music, but it was a challenge, and so rewarding to get all the people to sing with me.’ In one London performance, the Luftwaffe attacked and ‘even though we could hear bombs exploding outside the theatre, we carried on… I had sung 54 songs until the all-clear sounded at 3.45 am in the morning!’ Her ability to inspire morale and raise spirits with music lead her to join the Entertainment National Services Association .
All this made Adelaide Hall just the person for the job, then, when the Warwick Rotary Club arranged a concert for wounded soldiers in Myton Hamlet in the summer of 1944.2 At the time she was already a star and would have been ‘well known to thousands of radio listeners’.3 The connection came through Leam Productions, Ltd., an organisation which had hired Adelaide Hall to perform at Jephson Gardens in Leamington on a number of previous occasions, where she had entertained ‘war workers and refugees’.4 Together with the Rotary Club, they arranged for Adelaide Hall and two other singers to surprise the soldiers with a performance that ‘completed, in their inimitable way, a most enjoyable afternoon’.5
It seems that the enjoyment went both ways; one local newspaper reported that Adelaide Hall appreciated ‘the historic beauty and old-world quiet of Warwick’.6
After the bombs
Even post-war, Adelaide Hall’s presence could be felt in the area once more. In 1952, Coventry Hippodrome was chosen as the site for the world premiere of the musical ‘Love from Judy’. Adelaide Hall played the part of Butterfly, a maid who sang a few numbers including ‘Kind to Animals’ and ‘A Touch of Voodoo’. 7 The show went on to a successful West End run, before returning to Coventry in 1954.8
1 A few examples: ‘Wounded soldiers entertained in Leamington’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 01 October 1943; ‘Wounded soldiers entertained: Nearly 100 Dunkirk heroes’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 14 June 1940; ‘Claverdon: Wounded soldiers entertained’, Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, Friday 05 July 1940; ‘Wounded soldiers entertained: Large party in works ballroom’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 30 July 1943.
2 ‘Wounded soldiers entertained by the crowd’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 28 July 1944
3 ‘Leam Productions: Billy Cotton’s Band Draws the Crowds’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 14 July 1944
4 Winifred Sleath, ‘Letters to the Editor’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 04 August 1944
5 ‘Wounded soldiers entertained by the crowd’, Leamington Spa Courier, Friday 28 July 1944
6 Punch, ‘This and That in Warwick’, Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, Friday 21 July 1944
7 ‘World Premiere at Hippodrome’, Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, Friday 29 August 1952; ‘Hippodrome Theatre Coventry’, Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, Friday 08 August 1952; ‘Hippodrome Theatre: Coventry has world premiere of new show’, Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, Friday 22 August 1952; ‘Love From Judy’, The Guide to Musical Theatre, http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/shows_l/lovefrom_judy.htm [accessed 26 April 2017]
8 ‘‘Love from Judy’ at Coventry’, Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, Friday 10 September 1954