“Improving The Community One Project At A Time”
PO Box 117 - Alderson W Va. 24910
© Alderson Main Street 2014
Bricktop the Woman
On Sunday, August 24 at 6:30 the Town of Alderson will be celebrating the legend of Bricktop. But what was she
Ada Smith was a light skinned, red haired, freckled faced, African American born in rural West Virginia. At the age of
four her father died and her mother, Hattie, was left with four children to raise alone. She had a brother in Chicago
who was passing as white in order to get a good job with the railroad. Hattie contacted him and said she was moving
her family there. Hattie then opened a boarding house in Chicago and it was here that Ada would learn how to take
care of people and where she feel in love with entertaining.
Hattie had been raised in Catholic schools and taught her children what she had been taught about manners, no
swearing, how to treat people and working hard. Ada learned well. Later, when she had her clubs, no swearing was
allowed and any one who worked for her was fired if they tried to cheat a guest.
Bricktop was created in this environment. Her clubs became banks for people who were down and out and mail
drops for lovers. She was tough when needed, could fight both verbally and physically. She mentored new talent like
Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker. People respected and admired her. Bricktop knew how to have fun and had a
great sense of humor.
Ada brought her mother to Paris many times. Hattie supported her children in what ever they did as long as it was
honest. Ada loved her dearly. She had lost a brother and sister in Chicago. They were both brought back to Alderson
for burial. Her other sister, Blondzetta, became successful in real estate. Both girls helped their Mom, who continued
to run boarding houses.
Her one marriage only lasted a few years but they never divorced and stayed lifelong friends. She never had
When Bricktop had to leave Paris because of the Germans, friends on both sides of the Atlantic took care of her.
She arrived in New York and was mobbed by the press. She didn't expect to be treated like that. The clubs she
opened in New York didn't make it so she went back to Paris after the war. At age fifty she started a club in Mexico
City and then Rome. She finally retired at age 70.
It was while in New York that she became a Catholic. Her faith would become an important part of her life.
Ada "Bricktop" Smith never returned to Alderson because she said that if she did she would never leave. Well, in a
way Ada has never left because she is remembered here. See you Sunday on the Memorial Bridge in Alderson.
As Bricktop would say "caio, baby".
Source: Bricktop by Bricktop with James Haskins; Welcome Rain Pub. 1983
available at Alderson's Store. Also, see more about Bricktop in the History of Alderson