|Was||Singer Dancer Actor Film actor|
|From||United States of America Georgia|
|Type||Dancing Film, TV, Stage & Radio Music|
|Birth||30 December 1898, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, USA|
|Death||15 December 1970, Waterbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, USA (aged 72 years)|
|Residence||Paris, Seine, Île-de-France, France|
Zaidee Jackson (December 30, 1898 – December 15, 1970) was an American-born jazz, spiritual and pop music singer, dancer and actress who was well known in France, United Kingdom and Romania.
Zaidee Jackson was born in Augusta, Georgia in the winter of 1898 to C.J. and Alice Jackson, who were both sharecroppers in Berrien County, Georgia.
Sometime after moving to Europe, she began using 1900 as her birth year.
Zaidee had three older siblings, Ora Lee, Era and Sol Jackson. Sometime in late 1900, Alice left her husband and children, taking only Zaidee, and moved north to Boston, Massachusetts, where she met and married Fred Williams. Zaidee soon took her stepfather's last name. In 1902, Alice and Fred had their own child, Corinna.
In 1923, Zaidee married James Jackson, but the marriage was brief. Around that time, she met pianist Lawrence Brown, who had been working as an elevator operator and studying in Boston, and who was soon touring England with Roland Hayes.
Early career (1924–1927)
In 1924, Jackson was a part of the Andrew Bishop Players, touring throughout the Southern United States. In 1925, she joined Walter Sweatman's revue with bandleader Claude Hopkins in a tour of Canada. Eventually Claude left the revue to join the new show, La Revue Negre, in Paris. Jackson departed as well, obtaining a part in the cast of the half-white, half-black show Lulu Belle at New York's Belasco Theatre with actress Evelyn Preer. The show was a huge success, and Jackson was especially singled out for her dancing. Later in November, film director Oscar Micheaux hired the entire cast to appear in his film The Spider's Web, which is now lost.
In early 1927, she was playing with Adelaide Hall in Desires of 1927. During the summer, after a short tour, she appeared in Lyle and Miller's Rang Tang, this time featured as a singer. After the show, Lawrence Brown, who was touring Europe with Paul Robeson, convinced Jackson to come to Paris, leave behind the racism of the US and trade on the French fascination for "negro" culture. She arrived in Paris around November 1927.
French and British career (1928–1933)
Jackson arrived in France during the winter of 1927, joining her friend, Lawrence Brown in Paris.
By February 25, 1928, she found employment at the Kit Kat Club for a few weeks before touring with a band around the French coast: Deauville, Cannes, Biarritz. Her performances seemed to spark interest with numerous members of the British elite such as Elsa Maxwell, the Duke of Kent, and especially the Countess of Carnarvon who purchased Jackson a plane ticket to London in May. On June 9, Jackson became a popular fixture at the Uncles Club. By June 21, she was appearing at the Piccadilly Hotel, where she remained throughout the summer of 1928. After hours, she could be seen roaming the streets with Paul Robeson, Lawrence Brown and even Leslie Hutchinson, another colored singer working in London. On August 28, accompanied by Carroll Gibbons on piano, Jackson recorded "St. Louis Blues" and "Didn't I Tell You?" with HMV Records. However the records were never released. By September 5, in between her performances, she would visit the seventh floor of Marconi House in London's Strand, where the new British Broadcasting Company had its headquarters. From September 19 until the 29th, after a brief piano and vocal test, Jackson recorded the song "Waterboy" with the Duophone Recording Company. However, the song was rejected. Her radio concerts of American folk songs and ballads drew even more curiosity among the British populace. One of her radio shows was heard by Alban B. Limpus, British theatre director, who offered Jackson a role in May Edgington's new play Deadlock.
On October 4, Deadlock opened at the Comedy Theatre (October 4–20), with Jackson preceding the play performing a selection of spirituals. On October 9, with Duophone Records, Jackson recorded all four songs she performed in the play. After the play closed, Jackson made frequent trips between Paris and London on the Imperial Air Lines. During her Parisians excursions, while preparing for an upcoming revue, she witnessed Afro-British pianist Reginald Forsythe performing in local club and was eager to recruit him as her new pianist. On October 24, her revue at the Piccadilly Hotel opened, with Forsythe accompanying her on piano. During the course of the revue, Forsythe struck up a friendship with leading Harlem musical theatre tenor, Walter Richardson, who had come to London to play Uncle Ned in Virginia, a musical comedy which opened at the Palace Theatre on October 24. Forsythe was invited by Richardson (and his wife) to become his new accompanist much to Jackson's dismay and they embarked on a tour abroad. On November 10, Jackson was back in Paris, entertaining at La Plantation Club with Eddie South's Alabamians. The following day, she opened at London's Café Anglais (November 11–18). and appeared on BBC Radio's Rhymes and Rhythm show (November 21). Throughout November, Jackson and her Midnight Orchestra recorded four songs with the German-British record label Parlophone Records.
On January 8, 1929, Jackson recorded "Ready for the River" with Metropole Records. That same day, four more songs were recorded with Duophone, which were never released. Afterwards, Jackson returned to Paris, where she was engaged at Ada "Bricktop" Smith's popular Montmartre nightclub. Shortly afterwards, she purchased a comfortable apartment on the Rue Chalgrin, a small right-angle street in the Chaillot district, where she held intimate cocktail parties before whisking her guests over to the Bal Negre cabaret to dance the Biguine. On April 6, Jackson opened her own small nightclub, Chez Zaïdée, imitating Josephine Baker's own French nitery. Throughout the spring of 1929, she was invited to sing at Countee Cullen's small house party near the rue Pigalle and at black dancer Louis Cole's birthday party at his large apartment near the Trocadero. In May, she was performing at the Boeuf sur le Toit nightclub. On July 13, she flew back to London for her usual radio appearances. Around this time, she was introduced to Guy Robson, who flew Jackson constantly in his private plane, occasionally showing off with his stunt flying. Returning to Paris, she was engaged at Floresco's Bomboniere, which promptly ended on July 27 after she sprained her ankle. On September 10, she was once again broadcasting on BBC Radio, appearing alongside Williams & Taylor, Jackson & Blake, Leslie Hutchinson and the Kentucky Singers. On November 9, Jackson's manager E.J. Bonner arranged for her open in Manchester, appearing at the Lewis Department store dance-hall. She was soon given the opportunity of a short tour of England, who had already heard her on their radio transmissions.
Early 1930, Jackson spent two weeks at the Manchester Hippodrome (January 1–22), she then returned to London on January 27 to record fours songs for Parlophone before departing for a week in Bristol (January 27–February 1). Returning to London, The Stage Newspaper wrote positive reviews about her week engagement at the Hackney Empire Theatre (March 1–13), singing syncopated songs at (and away from) the piano. On March 27, Jackson was in Blackpool opening her own revue at the Blackpool Palace, Singer from Southland, in which she performed Akst & Clarke's "Am I Blue?". In April, she returned to London to record two songs for Parlophone, but she didn't record "Am I Blue?". The revue ran for a successful three months before closing early June. On June 5, she was back in Paris, entertaining at the Boeuf sur le Toit. However, on June 9, she was in London, recording two songs for Parlophone. On June 13, Jackson, eager to establish herself more in mainland Europe, returned to Paris in June with a four-month contract at the exotic Russian cabaret, Sheherazade. In July she returned to London, to record two songs accompanied by Reginald Forsythe and later two more in August. That winter it was arranged for Jackson to appear in Berlin. On November 7, She appeared at the famous Kabarett der Komiker (November 7–22). However, she was given mixed reviews for her singing, which some Germans felt was barely audible.
On January 9, 1931, she opened back in Paris at the L'Ange Bleu Bar (January 9-23). Her appearance there was well received and afterwards she departed again. On January 31, Jackson opened at Budapest's Royal Hotel accompanied by Russian pianist, Suponitzkaya (January 31-February 1). Back in Paris for the Paris Colonial Exposition, on June 23, she opened at the new cabaret, La Jungle-Montmartre, performing her intimate songs with Reginald Foresythe beside her with his piano. However, eventually her companion Reggie was whisked away again with another band for a tour of the US. On November 6, as the Exposition closed that winter, she was appearing at the New Marine Club. Meanwhile, George White offered her some of the music scores from his Broadway production, Scandals of 1931, probably with the intention of her joining the show.
Early 1932, Jackson departed for Cannes to open her own cabaret, Sous le Maquis, hoping to have Josephine Baker as her headliner. The establishment was briefly successful, but she eventually decided to return to Paris. On May 5, she began a five-month residency at the Le Bosphore club, performing for her friends, Pizella, Maurice Chevalier and Prince Yusupov. Ten days later, she also opened at Chez Zelli's for a six-month residency. On July 4, she added La Sheherazade cabaret to her nightly circuit, singing and dancing eccentrically for five months. In August, Jackson departed for St. Jean de Luz for a month's engagement at the Maxim Club (August 13–September 1). The following month, while performing a "Russian Act" at the Sheherazade, she planned for a trip to Moscow, which never came together. On December 22, Jackson returned to appear in Ballyhoo Revue, which opened at the Comedy Theatre to immense success with the British public.
On March 10, 1933, Jackson recorded with Parlophone the comedy number, "Pink Elephants" and another number, "I've got the Wrong Man" both of which she performed in the revue. In the meantime, film director Andrew Buchanan took her on screen, appearing in two short films with the Ideal Cine-Magazine, I've Got the Wrong Man and Black Magic. On the 24th, she recorded three more songs, this time with Decca Records. On May 20, she was back in Paris, appearing at the Robinson Club. The following night, she returned to the Sheherazade cabaret for a six-month residency accompanied by a Romanian orchestra. On June 3, Jackson also appeared in the extravagant revue, Au Dela... des Reins at Joe Zelli's latest cabaret, Chez Les Nudistes. Every evening for five months, she performed her sultry numbers completely nude for the Parisian audiences.
In August 1933, she returned to St. Jean de Luz, for a month's engagement at the Auberge club (August 22–September 20). By time she returned to Paris, the Montmartre nightclub was beginning to die down. On September 10, Jackson appeared at the Grand Ecart Restaurant and later performed in an artistic gala held at Le Bosphore Cabaret on October 6.
Monte Carlo & Switzerland (1934–1935)
The Depression finally arrived in France in 1934, causing the economy to fall apart and public demonstrations all across France. Jackson's appearances became sparse. On May 13, she appeared at a seaside casino in Juan-les-Pins. Jackson then left for Monte Carlo to open a new nightclub, where she danced, sang and entertained, imitating Bricktop. Months later, she re-appeared in Paris, performing at the Hotel Ritz on November 29. On December 11, she was back in Monaco, performing at the Knickerbocker Club before returning to Paris on December 21 for a Gala Artistique held at the Le Bosphore cabaret.
In May 1935, Jackson left France with Benny Peyton's Orchestra for an engagement in Lausanne, Switzerland. The following month, she appeared on her own in Ouchy (June 17–26) and Berne (June 26). During August, she returned to France for a month's engagement at St. Jean de Luz's Auberge cabaret. In September, she returned to Switzerland to appear in Neuchatel (September 24–25). She ended 1935 in Paris, singing at Fred Payne's Bar (December 21).
After a few months, as business had not recovered in the Montmartre, Jackson departed for Bucharest, Romania, immersing herself in Romanian nightlife, performing at La Zissu Musichall, on the Calea Șerban Vodă, with Jean Moscopol and appearing frequently at the Maxim Zig-Zag, Barul Melody and Mon Jardin nightclub. Soon she was introduced to Barbu Neamțu, a wealthy Romanian mechanical engineer who was a great sportsman and Ford representative. Shortly after meeting, they travelled together to marry in his ancestral city of Craiova of 100,000 in the midst of a rich agricultural area, where she was the only Negro. Her in-laws, particularly Mother Neamțu, disapproved of her son marrying a black music hall star. They often stayed in their smart apartment in central Bucharest. Since her new husband was quite wealthy, the couple purchased and occasionally occupied their country estate near Craiova.
During the winter of 1937, Octavian Goga was appointed Prime Minister, and issued a series of Anti-Semitic laws. In Bucharest, during the "Expoziție Naționale", Anti-Semitic and even pro-Fascist-themed displays were on exhibit. But it was over by the spring of 1938, when Goga died of a stroke.
Jackson's marriage was marred by jealousy and racial prejudice of her husband's numerous family (and the neighbors) who felt that he had married beneath him. He was accused of renouncing his family for a Negro. The monarchy made it difficult for him to get work papers; The fascist regime of the 1940s was worse, demanding that one be an "Ethnic Romanian." However, during this period of unhappiness, she was able to arrange a brief American tour.
After ten years abroad, Jackson debarked in New York from the SS Queen Mary, appearing in numerous nightclubs that would permit her during the winter of 1937. Upon arrival, she was met by American journalists, such as those of the Pittsburgh Courier: "Zaidee Williams Jackson was singing sweet songs at Chez Florence in Montmartre when we met her. A slim bronze young woman, who had Paris by its ears. We wonder if anyone who has lived over there for ten years as she has can come back here to prejudice and hate and pick up where she left off. We don't doubt that she'll return where, she says 'her work is more appreciated... and more lucrative.'" Eventually she invited Barbu along from Romania to enjoy the sights America had to offer. During the course of the tour, Jackson paid a visit to her family in Connecticut.
She sailed back to Europe by August. She appeared "sharp & ready" at Jimmy Monroe's Swing Club as well as in Harlem au Coliseum at the Paris-Coliseum alongside Myrtle Watkins, Three Dukes and the Willie Lewis Orchestra. After an appearance at Fred Payne's Bar, she returned home to Bucharest in February 1939, where she is listed as having joined the National Liberal Party.
In late 1939, immediately after the Polish invasion, the Germans slowed down, quietly turning their attentions to Scandinavia, giving much of Europe the false sense of security known as the "Drole Guerre" (Phony War). In Paris, soldiers were on every corner, and young men stood in long lines to enlist. Most American entertainers fled back to the United States. However, Jackson was having success in Romania, despite the war just across the border.
World War II (1940–1945)
Unlike in Paris, the swastika flew beside the Romanian flag. King Carol made it no secret that he supported the Nazis. As the war continued, Jackson kept busy, performing every night at the La Zissu cabaret. In the summer of 1940, King Carol soon handed over Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, causing uproar across Romania, especially as fleeing Bessarabian refugees crowded the streets of Bucharest. To get away from the occasionally crowded city, Jackson often departed to their countryside estate in Craiova, where Barbu spent much of his time running his business, probably more now since the Ford-Romania Company began providing military-grade vehicles for the Germans.
On September 4, the Iron Guard and General Ion Antonescu united to form a "National Legionary State" government, which forced the abdication of King Carol II in favor of his 19-year-old son Michael. On October 8, German troops began crossing into Romania and soon numbered over 500,000. Although Jackson herself encountered no real trouble, she found it expedient to stay away from public places. In 1943 Romania became a target of Allied aerial bombardment, such as the attack on the oil fields of Ploiești on August 1, 1943. Bucharest was subjected to intense bombing on April 4 and 15, 1944. Amidst shortages, formerly well-to-do people carried their dwindling stock of goods to the immense open-air market to sell, in order to keep alive. Until 1954, food was scarce and expensive.
Communist Romania (1948–1956)
Jackson's troubles began after the Romanian Communist Party came to power in 1948. Around this, many popular establishments closed down after the Nationalization of all businesses in Romania. Much of Europe's audiences were in desperate need of entertainment since the end of the war, and despite occasional censorship for 'decadence', Jackson remained popular with the Romanian public throughout the 1950s, according to Dan Mihaescu, later scriptwriter for TV-Romania. "For a time, I could get no work at all," she said, "until 1950, and then only sporadically, and for a miserable pittance of 600 leis monthly." Nightly taxi cabs to and from, her jobs cost 30 leis daily, which meant spending two-thirds of her salary for transportation. Often she chose to walk two miles in the dead of night from her apartment to save money to eat since meals were no longer supplied to artists. The average worker got 500 leis monthly wage. At first they gave her laborer's pay, but later upped her wage to 1,500 leis monthly. Even after she began to get regular work, Zaidee encountered prejudice and discrimination from musicians and managers. During this time, she wrote constantly to Lawrence Brown, who was again touring Europe with Paul Robeson. She described the devastation the German bombs caused to Bucharest during the war and her struggle to find work now with the Communists in charge.
In 1950, the Securitate (secret police) came in the dead of night, flashing torches in their faces, threatening. The government branded Barbu as "Bourgeois", so they were always fearful. Although engineers were in great demand, he could get very little work. One had to be "approved." A few months later Barbu was arrested as a "bourgeois spy". Their estate in Craiova was seized (ownership of private property was banned) and Barbu was held incommunicado locally for eighteen months and then sent to an Internment camp where he was ill-fed and given the most arduous physical tasks. There was never a charge or a trial. After four years he was released, broken and impoverished, in early 1955. Zaidee was left jobless for six months, until the government relented and allowed her work more or less regularly. Even after getting regular work in 1951, Jackson encountered prejudice and discrimination from musicians and managers. Jackson believed she could obtain more money by touring abroad in America, but she had difficulty in getting out of Romania, primarily by her marriage. Although an American woman marrying a foreigner supposedly retains her U. S. citizenship, in 1951 she was listed us a Romanian and as such could not get out. At first the U.S. Embassy was sympathetic but later became un cooperative due to the antagonism of a Hungarian woman secretary. Meanwhile, her sister, Corinna Williams-Thomas, was working indefatigably in her behalf, although writing to President Truman produced no results. Jackson wrote to Paul Robeson and William Patterson, who were both known to be close with the Communists. Neither deigned to reply. Then, in April 1955, Corinna Thomas wrote to President Eisenhower who promised prompt action.
In January 1956, as the result of an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union with the board of Immigration Appeals, the US State Department permitted Jackson to return to the United States. From Bucharest she flew to Amsterdam and changed planes directly for New York, where she was greeted with an American passport. She luckily missed the Red Scare movement, although there was still heavy prejudice against Communists (and those who had lived for several years in a Communist country). Jackson resumed her career on the American stage, 17 years since 1938. Her return to the American stage may have caused more strain on her already shaky marriage, caused the couple to eventually separate. Her time in America is not well documented since her return, except for an appearance in Boston in 1957 and a brief interview in Harlem during the summer of 1967, with Frank Driggs.
Zaidee Jackson died on December 15, 1970, near her sister's family in Connecticut.