Scope and arrangement
The Ada "Bricktop" Smith DuConge Papers, 1920s-1984, primarily documents the latter part of Bricktop's life and career. The Papers consist of letters and cards, daily planners, news clippings, religious thoughts and notes, address books, financial papers, and sheet music. The letters contain very little substantive information; none of the personalities Bricktop is known to have been associated with are included. The diaries may be of interest to a researcher well versed in Bricktop's life and the periods under study (the volumes span 1926 to 1983). The news clippings cover the relationships Bricktop had with well known personalities; however, there are few from the early part of her career while she was in New York City, Paris and Mexico City. The papers are organized in seven series, Diaries, Letters and Cards, Professional, Financial Records, Music, Religion, and News Clippings.
The Ada "Bricktop" Smith papers are arranged in seven series:
Series consists of multiple volumes that served as diaries as well as daily planners and account books. The volumes hold information pertaining to both her personal and professional life. The earliest volumes are primarily account books, noting the purchasing or selling of alcohol possibly for her club Bricktop's. The volumes from 1926, for example, list salary and liquor amounts, the amount celebrities such as Cole Porter paid for bottles of alcohol, and Charleston and Black Bottom lessons. Bricktop often attended Charleston cocktail parties, hosted at the private residences of people such as the Prince of Wales, Cole Porter, and Elsa Maxwell, where she taught dance lessons to Dolly and Jay O'Brian, Arturo Lopez, Lady Mendle, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Duchess of Marlborough to name a few. In 1926, Bricktop made her first attempt to open her own club, the Music Box, which is noted in one of the volumes. To christen its opening, she threw a party for the Prince of Wales. In the summer of '26, Bricktop also accompanied the Porters to a residence at Rezzonico in Venice where she gave Charleston lessons and performed with Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson. The volumes note as well other details such as the arrival date of Florence Mills in Paris and her address in London. In the later diaries, after the 1950s, Bricktop began to write prayers and scripture. There are also entries regarding dinner dates with people, e. g. Ruth and Ralph Bunche. The volumes list daily appointments and addresses, serve as daily food logs, as well as hold traditional journal entries noting her activities, thoughts, etc.
Series is organized alphabetically. The materials contain primarily letters and cards sent to Bricktop, although there are a few items written by her with her signature. The letters in the collection do not document the early part of her career while in Paris, New York, or Mexico City. The earliest letters date from the 1950s, after she moved to Rome. Some of the folders hold additional materials that are relevant to the content of the letters, e. g. in the Josephine Baker folder there are letters addressing the Josephine Baker Story written by Hank Kaufman and Jack Jordan, correspondence between Baker and Jordan discussing a law suit, an annotated speech written by Bricktop introducing Baker at Carnegie Hall, 1973, and several news clippings. The Benjamin Aslan folder includes a consent form, script, program and reviews for Red, Hot & Cole, 1977, which was written by Randy Strawderman, James Bianchi, and Muriel McAuley with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Letters from prominent people consist of author James Haskins (includes a book contract and correspondence discussing the progress of Bricktop's autobiography); Hugh Shannon (ca. 1924-), a salon singer who performed with Bricktop in Rome (includes a published piece about Shannon by Magnum Pomum, 1981, in which Bricktop is quoted, and a first and revised draft of Hugh Shannon "True Blue Hugh" written by Bricktop); Gimi Beni (1924-1999), a singer, writer and composer (includes an outline for proposed film Bricktop and news articles); David Hanna, a writer with whom Bricktop began writing her autobiography (includes transcripts edited by Bricktop); Earl Blackwell (ca. 1910-1995), the celebrity promoter; Ruth Ellington (1915-2004), Duke Ellington's sister; Bishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979), an American archbishop of the Catholic Church who played a role in Bricktop's conversion to Catholicism; and Jack Jordan, manager and producer (includes a letter to Bricktop discussing the terms for her agreement to have a cameo role in the film "Honey Baby, Honey Baby" produced by Jordan. Other letters discuss the prospect of authors such as James Baldwin writing Bricktop's autobiography, Jordan's discontent with Josephine Baker and letters to Eartha Kitt and Diana Ross).
Series encompasses promotional materials that relate to Bricktop's career as an entertainer, e. g. flyers, programs, including the program from Josephine Baker's first return engagement at Carnegie Hall, invitations, including two from Bricktop's in Paris in 1937, letters from broadcasting agencies and from magazines noting Bricktop's appearance dates and arrangements, correspondence, contracts and book outlines for possible books on or about Bricktop and membership records and documents to the various entertainment agencies to which she belonged. Additionally, there are published and unpublished writings on or about Bricktop, her club and even a brief chronological sketch of her professional performances. The writings include: A "Must" for the American in Rome written by Guglielmo Biragai, 1956; As it Happened by Bill Paley, 1979; A Night Club in Rome: Where Bricktop Sings at Midnight, by L. G. Walmsley, 1953; a sample column from the N. Y. Post by Curt Davis; and a press release from News from Playboy.
Series consists mainly of documents from her later years while living in New York. There are receipts for publicity services and hotel stays, bank passbooks and statements along with legal documents on the estate of her sister Blonzetta Lowary. In addition, there are leases, rent payments and bills from 1972 to 1981.
Series holds sheet music that Bricktop may have used for her performances. Most of the sheets are annotated. Included is a list (compiled in 1959) of compositions by Cole Porter that had been used in various productions.
Series contains religious materials. Bricktop, who had been converted to Catholicism in 1943, earned the nickname the "Holy Hustler" while in Rome, because she often shamed her patrons into giving to the various religious charities she financially supported. The bulk of this series is made up of prayer books; however, there are notations of personal and religious thoughts, prayers and dreams.
Series includes featured stories and arts, entertainment and society columns about Bricktop. The news clippings show the relationships Bricktop had with well known personalities. The clippings are substantial, highlighting the persona that was Bricktop and her long career as an entertainer. Some of the articles are from the Italian press.