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TV REVIEW : Alberta Hunter: A Trouper to the End

February 15, 1988|ZAN STEWART

Stuart Goldman's "Alberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin' " (tonight at 10 p.m. on KCET Channel 28) is an exhilarating, moving portrait of an extraordinary woman.

Hunter, who died at 89 in 1984, was a commanding singer whose career spanned seven decades--she took 20 years out to work as a practical nurse--and three continents. She sang with Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Paul Robeson and for Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter.

She wrote blues songs that started Bessie Smith's career--Smith's 1923 rendition of Hunter's "Down Hearted Blues" sold 800,000 copies--and that made up the sound track of Alan Rudolph's 1978 film, "Remember My Name."

The singer's fascinating life story is told through Chris Albertson's solid script, narrated by Billy Taylor, and through interviews--with Hunter, the late producer John Hammond, nightclub owner Barney Josephson and others--rich archival photography and live performance footage.

The latter, shot at Josephson's The Cookery nightspot in Manhattan, depicts Hunter at 86, her face showing hardly a wrinkle, singing as effervescently as Perrier, and with great humor.

She knocks out such numbers as the spiffy title track, "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and the simply lascivious "My Man's a Handy Man," her voice full and rich, her hands gesturing, her eyes rolling or winking, a consummate showperson to the end.

She was, indeed, someone quite special.

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