I came across this book through a recommendation. I’m so pleased I did.
As an admirer of Duke Ellington’s work, I knew of Adelaide Hall, mainly through her connection and early recordings with Ellington, but knew little about the lady herself or her significant achievements in the world of entertainment.
In the books preface, the author, Iain Cameron Williams, claims Adelaide Hall appears in many jazz anthologies as a mere footnote, whilst others abandon her career altogether. With "Underneath a Harlem Moon" Williams attempts to set the record straight by documenting comprehensively her exact relevance and role in the History of Jazz and, in my opinion, succeeds admirably.
Williams’s familiarity with his subject clearly demonstrates the amount and depth of research he made in order to unearth the facts. One gets the distinct impression that during the process he left no stone unturned, so detailed is his descriptive. Although Williams’s 20-year friendship with Hall must clearly have helped him in appraising his subject’s temperament, it must also have allowed him the privilege to see an intriguing side to her character that her fans would not normally have seen. This becomes apparent the deeper one delves into the text.
The book charts in rich detail the life and career of Miss Hall during the frenetic Harlem Renaissance and documents all the colourful characters to emerge from this movement, most of whom worked with Miss Hall at some point in her career. It also gives a fascinating insight into the social history of the Twenties and Thirties when Prohibition, real-life gangsters and sophisticated nightclub culture ruled the sidewalks.
Overall, a hugely enjoyable read made easy by Williams’s approachable style of writing and keen interest towards the characters he portrays within the text. A must for all jazz and popular music buffs. The book also contains a sizeable gallery of superb photographs (including one, which must be of great interest to all Ellington fans, a rare previously unpublished photograph of Adelaide and Ellington together, circa 1930.)