Alberta Hunter & the Art of the Third Act

Why It's Never Too Late & There's Always Still Time

Alberta Hunter walked away from music at the age of 62.

Born in Memphis, she had spent the better part of the past 40 years building a burgeoning jazz and blues career. 

She had begun her singing career in a Chicago brothel, started composing her own music at the age of 19, and by 22 had found herself touring Europe. 

Her sharp wit and sultry tone made her a favorite of many of the mainstays of the 20’s and 30’s, leading to recordings with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. 

But in 1957, after the death of her Mother, Hunter walked away. 

Moving to New York City, Hunter lied about her age, securing a job as a nurse on New York’s Roosevelt Island. 

For the next 20 years, Hunter worked her Second Act as a nurse, caring for patients, making friends, but rarely sharing the story of her once illustrious music career. 

But in 1976, while attending the birthday party of a friend, a Greenwich Village club owner recognized Hunter and managed to convince her to come out of retirement for a  brief stint at their venue. 

What followed was an historic six year residency and the beginning of Hunter’s Third Act.

Now well into her 80’s, Hunter wasn’t just popular, she was famous. She signed to Columbia Records, releasing a series of simply incredible albums, which led to TV appearances and sold out concerts across the country. 

Her Third Act would go on to define her legacy, solidifying her place in jazz and blues history, and securing her spot in both the Blues Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. 

What Hunter Has To Teach Us

Patience is a powerful tool for those who can harness it. But for so many of us - myself included - there’s often a sense that if we aren’t exactly where we want to be right now that somehow we have failed. 

But if you take a minute and listen to Alberta Hunter sing “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball” from her sophomore return album Amtrak Blues, it’s hard to not feel inspired.

For me, Alberta Hunter serves as a reminder that our best days are almost always still before us. That it is never too late. That no matter how old we are, there is in fact still time. 

Editor’s Note

For the past few years, whenever I go record shopping (which is more often than my wife would like…), I always try to buy an extra copy of Alberta Hunter’s Amtrak Blues album, any time I come across it. I then gift the album to a friend, sharing not just Hunter’s music, but her story.

There are, in fact, several folks subscribed to this newsletter who have been on the receiving end of the album. To those old friends, as well as the new ones I’ve just met, thank you for listening and allowing me to share.

To Alberta, let me say this, thank you for being the shinning star you are. All these years later, you still burn bright for me.