Ada “Bricktop” Smith: a snapshot biography

Bricktop was born in Alderson, West Virginia, in 1894. After her father passed away when she was four, her mother moved the family to Chicago, where Bricktop would spend her youth.

Black-and-white photograph of Ada 'Bricktop' Smith standing by a metal fence on a city street. She wears a mid-length coat, a light-colored dress, and heeled shoes, and is holding a fan in her right hand. The background features a street with a bus and buildings. The photo is signed with a personal note that reads 'To Langston, Regards, Brick, Paris 1924"
Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith in Paris, 1924

In Chicago, Bricktop began what would be a lifetime in show business. She performed at five in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By her late teens, she was a dancer and singer, performing all over the country. At twenty, she moved to Harlem and Paris a few years later.

Her Paris life first started with performing. But within a few years, she decided to open a Her Paris life first started with performing. But within a few years, she decided to open a nightclub, the first of a number of endeavors owning and managing nightclubs in Europe, Mexico, and the U.S.

Bricktop was beloved by many. Writers wrote about her; F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “My greatest claim to fame is that I met Bricktop before Cole Porter.”

After retiring from managing clubs in 1961, she said, “I’m tired, honey. Tired of staying up all night.” But she continued performing into her eighties.

Close-up black-and-white portrait of Ada 'Bricktop' Smith wearing a stylish hat with a feather accent. She has a gentle smile, looking directly at the camera, and her attire includes a light-colored dress or coat with a lapel, accessorized with a necklace.
Ada “Bricktop” Smith

“Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith: a snapshot biography” sources

Portrait of Ada taken in 1934 – Van Vechten, Carl, photographer. Portrait of Bricktop Ada Smith du Conge, Paris. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004662625/> / Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Ada “Bricktop” Smith in Paris, France” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1924. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/743fb709-528a-7d7a-e040-e00a18063183 / Stanford Libraries: A Night at Bricktop’s: Jazz in 1930s’ Montmartre / William G. Pomeroy Foundation

Notes

Click here to read a snapshot biography of another performer – Josephine Baker.

Reader donations help us continue writing stories. If you enjoyed this snapshot biography of Ada “Bricktop” Smith and are able to help, please visit our Patreon page to donate. Thank you for your support.