Adelaide Louise Hall was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her family moved across the East River to Harlem, and it was here, among the rich and fertile renaissance of black culture in the 1920s, that Adelaide nurtured her dreams of becoming a star. Her first stage role was in 1921 in the chorus line of the all-black Broadway musical "Shuffle Along", which gave her a taste of the limelight. The show ran for 504 performances and then went on tour.
Her next stint on stage came in 1923, when she was featured in the all-black Broadway musical "Runnin' Wild." Of her performance, Variety wrote, " . . . picked from the chorus is Adelaide Hall, who can be termed a real find. She jazzes a number as Paul Whiteman would have it done, and her singing of 'Old Fashinoed Love' is a knockout." The show ran for 213 performances and then went on tour. In 1925 she toured Europe as lead in "The Chocolate Kiddies Revue". She introduced Europe to the Charleston dance and performed it to Duke Ellington's "Jig Walk" (the fact is that she was a sensation in Europe before the better known Josephine Baker--who always gets credited for introducing Europe to the Charleston--did.
In 1927 she recorded "Creole Love Call" on a record, backed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The record caused a furore after its release because of its blatantly sexual overtones, but it went on to sell millions of copies and is still selling. It is widely regarded as among the most famous and important jazz recordings ever made. It introduced "scat singing" to the general public, and catapulted Adelaide and Ellington to international stardom. The next year Adelaide starred on Broadway in "Blackbirds of 1928" with Bill Robinson (aka "Bojangles"). The show went on to become the longest-running all-black revue ever to appear on Broadway, a record that remains unbroken. The show gave Adelaide three hit songs: "I Can't Give You Anything but Love", "Diga Diga Do" and "I Must Have That Man." She and Bojangles became the black equivalent to Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire and the show made her the first black international superstar (Josephine Baker at the time was only a star in Europe, not the US). In 1929 she performed in the "Blackbirds of 1928" revue in Paris, France, at the world-famous Moulin Rouge for three months. The New Amsterdan News reported that "Adelaide Hall takes Paris by storm." The next year she returned to Broaeway and co-starred with Bojangles in "Brown Buddies", to great acclaim. In 1931 she began a world tour that lasted for almost two years and took her to two continents, played to over a million people and made her the wealthiest black woman in America. During the tour she discovered the blind pianist Art Tatum, whom she employed as her pianist. In 1934 she starred at Harlem's Cotton Club for eight months in one of the club's most successful revue, during which she introduced Harold Arlen's timeless classic "Ill Wind" and the raunchy "Primitive Prima Donna", which were especially written for her. She made her film debut the next year in the musical short An All-Colored Vaudeville Show (1935) for Vitaphone, which also starred The Nicholas Brothers.
She moved to Paris in 1936 and for the next three years toured extensively all over Europe. She starred in a production of "The Sun Never Sets" at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1938 with Todd Duncan, with music by Cole Porter. In 1939 she settled in Great Britain, where she spent the remainder of her life. She appeared in the classic fantasy The Thief of Bagdad (1940) in 1940, and during the war she joined ENSA and toured military facilities in Britain and abroad, entertaining the troops, and at the end of the war she was actually one of the first entertainers to perform in Germany.
For the next 20 years Adelaide was Britain's most famous and successful black female vocalist. She had numerous shows on the BBC, including "Harlem in Mayfair" (1939), "Dark Sohistication" (1943), "Starlight" (1947), "Variety in Sepia" (1949), "Black Magic" (1949), and "Old Songs for New". She also made over 50 recordings for Decca Records. In 1951 she starred in Cole Porter's musical "Kiss Me Kate" at London's Coliseum Theatre, a show that ran for a year, then went on tour. The next year she starred in "Love from Judy" at London's Saville Theatre, which also ran fora year and then went on tour. In 1956 she starred in "Someone to Talk To" at London's Duchess Theatre. The next year she returned to the US and starred on Broadway in the musical "Jamaica" with Lena Horne.
The 1960s were not good career-wise for Adelaide, and her star faded considerably. Horever, in 1979 she appeared in the Newport Jazz Festival's production of "Black Broadway" and te next year she and Elisabeth Welch and Edith Wilson starred in a production of the show at New York's Town Hall. In 1983 she returned to New York City for a surprise guest appearance at Eubie Blakes 100th birthday concert. On April 1 of that year Adelaide starred in "Sacred Music Of Duke Ellington", which was performed at St Paul's Cathedral in London and televised. In 1985 she appeared on numerous British television shows including "A Royal Celebration . . . Forty Years of Peace", "Omnibus,The Cotton Club Comes to The Ritz" and an episode of The South Bank Show (1978) called "The Real Cotton Club". In 1986 Adelaide appeared on the British TV show "Chasing A Rainbow." Returning to New York two years later, she starred in a concert at the famed Carnegie Hall. In 1989 her biographical documentary Sophisticated Lady (1989) premiered at the London Film Festival and made its TV debut the next year.
In 1990 Adelaide recorded and released three albums: "I Touched a Star", "Hall of Memories" and "Live at the Riverside". She performed in concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1991 at age 90 in "A Tribute to Adelaide Hall". On Mardch 4 of the following year she once more journeyed to New York, this time for a two-day appearance at Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, this was her last performance. She died of pneumonia in London, England, on November 7, 1993.