Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Smith [Duconge] a/k/a Bricktop, recently inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, is the most fascinating person I've found connected to Greenbrier Valley history. I have sought her in archives in several states and visited the rue Pigalle site of her famous jazz-era nightclub.
In my favorite Bricktop photo, she is looking at herself in the mirror and wrote across the image, "So there you are. Who are you?" She underlined "Who" three times. Bricktop answered the question in her published autobiography, "Bricktop by Bricktop" with James Haskins. (NY: Athenum, 1983). Elaborating on Bricktop's answer to that question is the basis of the paper I presented at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
It saddens me that the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame is not interested in Bricktop's account of her life. They persist in saying "She got the nickname 'Bricktop' from the red hair and freckles she inherited from her Irish immigrant father."
Not so, Bricktop writes, on page 4: "My father had dark brown skin and so did my brother Robert. My mother was seven-eighths white, with blond hair and gray-blue eyes. If she'd wanted to, she could have passed for white. My oldest sister, aged eleven at the time of my birth, inherited my mother's hair and eyes. Her real name was Etta, but everyone called her blond Etta, which became Blonzetta. My five-year-old sister, Ethel, had that golden-brown skin that looks as if there is a light underneath it. Then along I came with white, white skin like my mother's, and red-gold hair."
Bricktop describes the Irish connection on pages 5-6: "Mama was born in slavery, but only two years before the Emancipation Proclamation. Her mother had white skin, blue-gray eyes, and blond hair and was mostly Scotch-Irish. She was a house slave, and so she had an easier time of it than the field slaves. Mama's maiden name was Thompson, and her father was probably her mother's master."
In addition to saying that the family was FFV (First Families of Virginia), Bricktop said, "I'm 100 per cent American Negro with a trigger-Irish temper." (p. xv).
Since the newspaper is the "first draft of history," please allow Bricktop to correct the record. Thank you,
Joan C. Browning