Linda Hopkins

Linda Hopkins - It's My Belief (1972)

She was born December 14th. 1924 as Melinda Helen Matthews in New Orleans, Louisiana, the second child of the Reverend Fred Matthews, Sr. and Hazel Smith. She grew up in the section of New Orleans known by the locals as "Gert Town" or "Zion City" which border Xavier University. Hopkins is an American blues and gospel singer, and actress.

Known as "Lil Helen Matthews" as a child, she was discovered at the age of eleven by Mahalia Jackson when she persuaded Jackson to perform at a fundraiser at her home church, St. Mark's Baptist Church. Lil Helen opened the children's fundraising program with a rendition of Jackson's gospel hit, God Shall Wipe Your Tears Away. Jackson was so impressed by Lil Helen's determination and talent that she arranged for Lil Helen to join the Southern Harp Spiritual Singers in 1936. Hopkins remained with the group for a decade.

She first saw Bessie Smith perform Empty Bed Blues at The New Orleans Palace Theatre in 1936. Hopkins greatly admired Smith and later won critical plaudits for her rendition of Smith in the 1959 theatrical presentation Jazz Train.

Matthews left New Orleans in the 1950s, and, in 1951, began performing at Slim Jenkin's Night Club in the Oakland/Richmond area. There she met Johnny Otis and Little Esther Phillips who created her stage name, Linda Hopkins. In 1952, Hopkins toured Hawaii and Japan for two years which included a stint with Louis Armstrong at The Brown Derby in Honolulu. She recorded for the Crystalette, Forecast, Federal and Atco labels and often appeared at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

In 1960, Hopkins first toured Europe in the production Broadway Express, the restaged production of Jazz Train. She recorded "Shake a Hand" with Jackie Wilson on the Brunswick label, which is her sole hit single ranking 21 on the R&B chart. She also attended Stella Adler's Acting School in New York City.

During the 1970s, Hopkins performed in the Broadway musical, Purlie, and with Sammy Davis, Jr. for nine months. In addition, she performed at one of President Jimmy Carter's inaugural balls. In 1972 she was awarded a Tony and Drama Desk Award for her performance in Inner City Blues. She has recorded classic, traditional, and urban blues, and performed R&B and soul, jazz, and show tunes, all with distinction and style.

Hopkins starred in Me and Bessie, a one-woman show paying homage to blues singer Bessie Smith, conceived and written by Hopkins and Will Holt. The world premiere was in Washington, D.C. in 1974. After a run in Los Angeles it transferred to the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway. The critically acclaimed show ran for 13 months and 453 performances, and Hopkins was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience.

In 1985, Black And Blue, written by Claudio Segovia and Hector Orezzoli, premiered in Paris at The Théâtre Musical Paris. The musical revue opened on Broadway in 1989 and ran for 829 performances. Linda received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical. Wild Women Blues, conceived by Hopkins and produced by Mel Howard, premiered in Berlin in 1997. In 1998 Hopkins celebrated 50 years in show business.
In October 2005, Hopkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (wikipedia)

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