A truly beautiful woman and gifted pianist with a come-hither voice that dripped with sultriness, Hadda Brooks was Modern Records’ most prolific artist in the company’s early days, and their most consistent seller. Jules Bihari did not record Hadda prolifically just because she was his girlfriend: people wanted to buy Hadda’s 78s whether she was singing a cocktail blues of a Tin Pan Alley standard in her oh-so-seductive manner or knocking seven bells out of a classical piece in a boogie woogie style.
Pretty much everything Modern put out on her sold like crazy on the West Coast, and several of her best-selling mid-40s titles were repressed well into the 1950s. Even though Ace has four Hadda CDs in catalogue and her work is well represented across compilations such as “Modern 1945” and “Beating The Petrillo Ban”, there are still plenty of masters awaiting reissue.
Hadda stayed with Modern until 1950, when the promise of greater stardom on record and in film lured her elsewhere. She appeared in a couple of movies and made decent records for London and Okeh, but with little career advancement. By the mid 50s, her career was effectively over until she made an unexpected and welcome comeback in the 1990s with a new album sparked by “Romance In The Dark”, the first Ace reissue of some of her better-known 1940s sides.
Just about all of Hadda’s best records were made for Modern, and it’s a real pleasure for me to have personally played a part in the ongoing reissue (and, indeed, first time issue) of so many of them. Of the three collections with which I’ve been involved, her “That’s Where I Came In” CD is right up there with any of Ella Fitzgerald’s 1950s interpretations of the Great American Songbook. If there is a fan of West Coast “cocktail R&B” out there who has yet to purchase it, he or she is urged to stop reading now and buy one forthwith.
If Hadda had been with a major label from the start of her career, rather than a feisty West Coast indie, there’s no doubt she would be widely acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of song of her or any generation. Still, if she’d been with a major rather than with a label that cut her at every opportunity, we would not have so many wonderful recordings to delight us. Then and now, Hadda Brooks remains the First Lady of Modern Records.
By Tony Rounce