Linda Hopkins, American actress and blues and gospel singer, Died at 92

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Linda Hopkins was born Melinda Helen Matthews on December 14, 1924, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and died on April 10, 2017.

She was an American actress and blues and gospel singer.

Her genre was classic, traditional, and urban blues, and performed R&B and soul, jazz, and show tunes.

Melinda was the second child of the Reverend Fred Matthews, Sr. and Hazel Smith, Hopkins grew up in the section of New Orleans known by the locals as “Zion City”.

Hopkins went to school in “Gert Town” which bordered the Xavier University of Louisiana.

She was mostly 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.

She had started the children’s fundraising program with a rendition of Jackson’s gospel hit, “God Shall Wipe Your Tears Away”.

Reportedly, Mahalia Jackson so impressed by Helen’s determination and talent that she arranged for the young girl to join the Southern Harp Spiritual Singers in 1936.

She was with the group for a decade.

Hopkins first saw Bessie Smith perform Empty Bed Blues at The New Orleans Palace Theatre in 1936.

She was a fan of Smith and later won critical plaudits for her rendition of Smith in the 1959 theatrical presentation Jazz Train.

Linda then left New Orleans in the 1950s, and, in 1951, she started performing at Slim Jenkin’s Night Club in the Oakland/Richmond area.

Following that, Hopkins met Johnny Otis and Little Esther Phillips who created her stage name, Linda Hopkins.

She started touring Hawaii and Japan for two years in 1952, that tour also included a stint with Louis Armstrong at The Brown Derby in Honolulu.

Hopkins recorded for the Crystalette, Forecast, Federal and Atco labels and often appeared at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

During 1960, she first toured Europe in the Broadway Express, the restaged production of Jazz Train.

Linda recorded “Shake a Hand” with Jackie Wilson on the Brunswick label, which is her sole hit single reaching #21 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

During 1952, she attended Stella Adler’s Acting School in New York City.
She also 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 held in Washington, D.C. in 1974.

Then a run in Los Angeles it transferred to the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway.

She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 2005.

Linda Hopkins passed away at 92 years old.

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