Hadda Brooks, who was from Boyle Heights, signed to the new Los Angeles-based record label, Modern Records, and her “Swinging the Boogie” was a big regional hit. The label quickly bestowed Hadda with the modest title, “Hadda Brooks – Queen of the Boogie.”
|An advertisement for Modern Music Distributing Company in 1945 touting Hadda Brooks as “Queen of the Boogie Woogie.” From the website vocalgroupharmony.com.
In quick succession other crowd-pleasing hits followed such as, “Rockin the Boogie,” “Riding the Boogie,” and “Bully Wully Boggie.” As label chief Jules Bihari later put it, “the first disc was a hit, and we were in the record business.” Right after Hadda’s first hit, the Biharis hired a young man named Lester Sill to assist with sales, but he eventually worked his way up to produce many of Hadda’s Modern recordings; in 1961 he and music producer Phil Spector would form the Philles Records label.
|The 1946 “album” titled Hadda Brooks, Queen of the Boogie and featuring three 78-rpm discs, an unusual format of the time, especially for a black artist. Photo by Rudy Martinez.
Though she visited a number of clubs, Hadda was never a performing fixture of the Central Avenue scene, which was fine with her father. She told an interviewer for the Central Avenue Oral History Project:
When I went into show business, my father almost disinherited me. He thought I was working on Central Avenue. My father had a freaking fit. My daddy sort of calmed down and he came to accept what was going on.
In 1989 she told the New York Times:
When I first went to Central Avenue, it was really exciting. At that time, I was just getting away from home, and the whole atmosphere excited me. I was able to go see everybody without having to report back home.
|The inside of the gatefold of the Hadda Brooks album. Photo by Rudy Martinez.
Hadda even made a promotional in-store appearance at the Good Housekeeping Shop in Van Nuys in June 1946. Like her previous releases, the album was a big seller for Modern Music. But, more significantly, the release had the distinction of very possibly making her the first black artist to release an album of 78s before the introduction of the long- playing (LP) format in 1948.
|Hadda received second billing beneath bop superstar, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, at the New Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, 1947. From the Austin Young and Barry Pett Collection.
That performance altered the direction of her career. In a short while, the “Queen of the Boogie” transformed into one of the most alluring and unique singers of her time. In early 1947, Hadda recorded her R&B hit and signature song, “That’s My Desire.” A few months later, Mercury Records released white crooner Frankie Laine’s version of the tune and it shot to number one in the broader pop market charts, making his rendition the more commonly-known today. Nevertheless, by 1947, Hadda was established as one of the most talented new singers around. Later that year, she went on an eight-month cross-country tour with Count Basie and Artie Shaw, which included some east coast dates and a performance at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater.
|Hadda with the famed singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, 1945. From the Los Angeles Public Library Digital Photograph Collection.
As Hadda evolved from Boogie-Woogie Queen to a primarily sultry R&B singer, the focus of Modern Records also changed. Joe Bihari began making trips to the south to find new artists to record. By 1952 he bought the license to recording masters from Sam Phillips, head of Sun Studios in Memphis (at the time, Sun was strictly a recording facility; they licensed their recordings to record labels.)
Joe soon had an assistant scout accompanying him on these trips, a 21-year old musician from Mississippi named Ike Turner. In 1953 Joe and Ike recorded a newly-signed little-known blues singer and guitarist named B. B. King for Modern’s new RPM label. The song was “Three O’Clock Blues,” and, as a #1 record, it was King’s first breakout hit making him Modern’s biggest recording star throughout the decade. The Biharis would continue to find and record such artists as Lowell Fulson and Jesse Belvin, who scored big with his signature hit, “Good Night My Love.” Tragically, Belvin died at the age of 27 in 1960, and is interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
|Hadda on the left with actress Dorothy Dandridge, right, late 1940s. From the Walter L. Gordon Collection, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
In addition, unlike Hadda’s comfortable middle-class Boyle Heights upbringing, with her genteel-mannered parents and classical music training, many of the new emerging black recording artists had grown-up with experiences of blatant racism and grinding poverty. Their more robust sound was what the Biharis focused on and this just was not a natural fit for Hadda’s music.
In 1994, Hadda told the interviewer for the Central Avenue Oral History Project that she never signed a contract, or received formal royalty payments for her compositions – though the label gave her sole credit. She was given a weekly cash “allowance,” that was not always forthcoming on a regular basis and, at times, she had to directly initiate a request for money from the company’s finance manager. However, Hadda did describe the Biharis as generous, and she always had money to pay for her expenses. Presumably this financial arraignment immediately stopped when she left the label, even though Modern Records occasionally released recordings from her back catalog long after she left.
The fourth and final post on the remarkable life and career of Hadda Brooks follows her journey from leaving Modern Records, including a stint on early local television, her move to and work in Australia, and her later years, which brought some belated recognition for her many talents. Check back for the conclusion to Rudy’s excellent post.