Story Of Hattie Mc Daniel: From Maid To First Black Academy Award Winner
The year is 1929, Hattie Mc Daniel is working late hours at her job as a waitress and washroom attendant in Club Madrid, she is singing as she goes about her duties, in that sonorous voice of hers she very much believed in. This had not been the plan initially.
When Hattie had dropped out of East River High School and started professionally singing, dancing and performing skits in shows as part of The Mighty Minstrels, the plan had been to follow her dreams, to more fully focus on her fledgling career, performing with her older brother’s own troupe.
From her noble background as one of the thirteen children of a former slave and domestic worker, Hattie had few opportunities in life.
Things changed when the troupe began to lose money, she married pianist, Howard Hickman and life took on a slower pace until 1920 when she embarked on a radio career becoming the first black woman to sing on radio. She finally believed her moment had come
She would go on to become a blues artist, recording many of her songs, striding in and out of studio sessions with Okeh and Paramount records of which only four were issued. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and music had not yet brought the needed break, Hattie knew she had to step aside for a bit.
This is what leads her to the lobbies of Club Madrid. She wants to know if there’s a job for her and when she is indeed told there is one, she is thrilled. But her excitement is short lived, the manager is reluctant to allow her perform. Soon after however he lets her take the stage and Hattie becomes a regular performer.
It is from taking the stage that she would land a steady gig as a vocalist at Sam Pick’s Suburban Inn in Milwaukee. She would two years after that move to Los Angeles to join her siblings Sam and Etta. Her brother was already a regular on a KNX radio show and Hattie seized this opportunity to appear on the show once. The listeners loved her immediately.
Shortly after that, she landed her first film role as an extra in a Hollywood Musical. Then in 1932, she was featured as a housekeeper in The Golden West. Because of the racial discrimination in the industry, there were few roles available to her and so she supplemented acting with menial jobs as a maid or a cook.
Five years after that, amidst stiff competition, Hattie stared in the groundbreaking film of her career, Gone with the Wind. She played Mammy, the maid of Scarlett O’Hara and had dressed in her actual maid uniform for the audition.
All of the film’s black actors, including McDaniel, were barred from attending the film’s premiere in in Atlanta, Georgia because of the states high segregation tendency. About a year after, Hattie Mc Daniels won the Academy Award for her performance as the house slave.
This was the turning point of her career. Hattie would later get two stars on the walk of fame, use her talents to break racial stereotypes rather than reinforce them and during World War II, help entertain American troops and promoted the sale of war bonds.
But few things would matter more to her than shattering the glass ceiling of bagging an Oscar, paving the way for all who were to come after her, rekindling hope in every black child, for as she once said, Faith is the black person’s federal reserve system.
Featured Image: History