Born Melinda Helen Matthews, 14 Dec. 1924, New Orleans, Louisiana
Linda Hopkins is an extremely versatile singer and performer, with extensive stage credentials alongside her vocal skills. She has recorded traditional and urban blues, soul, jazz, gospel, show tunes and classical music. She grew up as the second youngest of six children of a Baptist preacher, so naturally she was singing in church already as a little girl. Hardly eleven years old, she managed to talk the great Mahalia Jackson - on the telephone - into doing a benefit concert at her father's church. Around the same time she saw Bessie Smith perform at the New Orleans Palace Theatre and fell in love with the blues.
Her first recordings, though, were pure gospel. These were made for the King label in 1947 and released under her own name, Helen Matthews. A meeting with Little Esther (who invented her new stage name, Linda Hopkins) led to a position as female lead singer with the Johnny Otis orchestra. Otis introduced her to Herman Lubinsky, the owner of Savoy Record in Newark, NJ, and she was signed to Savoy, where she made his first blues recordings in 1951, backed by the Otis aggregation. She didn't stay long with Otis, however, and by 1953 she was recording with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for the small Forecast and Crystalette labels. Linda toured extensively, frequently appearing at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
She did two sessions for the Federal label, in 1954 and 1956, resulting in three singles, produced by Ralph Bass. Next came a stint at Atco, then still run by Herb Abramson, who produced "Rock and Roll Blues"/"Shiver and Shake" (Atco 6096) in 1957. For her second and final Atco session, in November 1959, she was reunited with Leiber and Stoller ("Sentimental Fool"/"Love Is A Many Splendored Thing", Atco 6154).
In 1959, Linda Hopkins incoporated her great idol Bessie Smith for the first time in a Broadway production, "Jazz Train", to great acclaim. In 1960 this show got her to Europe for the first time, where it was called "Broadway Express". While in Europe, she also did some recording (in Basel, Switzerland), for the Ex-Libris label.
A long, moderately successful stay at Brunswick Records (1960-65) followed. Her first record for the label was "I Diddie Dum Dum", recorded on December 8, 1960, a poppy, but catchy rock n roll tune in the style of LaVern Baker (Brunswick 55202, also released on Coral 72423). Recently it was included on the CD "Rock 'n ' Roll Mamas, Vol. 4" (Popcorn 6007).
Her only hit (# 42 pop, # 21 R&B) was a 1963 duet with Jackie Wilson, "Shake A Hand", the old Fay Adams hit. An entire LP of Wilson-Hopkins duets was released towards the end of 1963, mostly filled with spirituals. Meanwhile, Linda had been taking acting lessons, and from the 1970s onwards she concentrated more on acting, though she still made occasional recordings (for RCA, 1970-73, and Columbia, 1976-77). A whole string of roles for stage, movie and TV was rewarded with several awards, including a Tony Award for best actress in a musical ("Inner City") in 1972.
"Me and Bessie" was a successful one woman show (1974-75), written by herself, in which Linda portrayed Bessie Smith. In the 1980s, the musical revue "Black And Blue" became another highlight in Linda's career. She spent most of the 1990s in Europe, starring in another musical revue, "Wild Women Blues", a tribute to Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington.
Only five albums were released under her own name. One of these, "Here's the Kid" ("The Kid" was her nickname), was recorded live in Papendrecht, the Netherlands, and released on the Jazz Behind the Dykes label. Now in her eighties, Linda Hopkins continues to perform regularly. A new live CD, "The Living Legend Live" was released in October 2006, on FreeHam Records. http://cdbaby.com/cd/lindahopkins
Acknowledgements / Further reading : The Official Linda Hopkins website at http://www.global-mojo.com/specialsite/hopkins/
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