Singer and actress Linda Hopkins died on Monday (April 10) at a care facility in Wisconsin at the age of 92.
Hopkins was better known as a Broadway actress, although she recorded a number of albums over the years that were steeped in the world of gospel and blues styles from the 20’s through the 40’s.
Born Melinda Matthews in New Orleans, Hopkins was already on the stage at the age of 11 as Lil’ Helen Matthews. She was discovered by Mahalia Jackson who was so impressed with her talent that she arranged for her to become a member of the Southern Harp Spiritual Singers. Melinda remained a member of the group for a decade.
In 1951, Melinda moved to California where she started performing regularly at Slim Jenkin’s Night Club where she met Johnny Otis and Little Esther Phillips who she credits with giving her the name of Linda Hopkins. She soon found herself touring the world with the likes of Louis Armstrong and, eventually, recording for a number of labels but it was the theater that ended up being her true calling.
In 1959, Hopkins joined the cast of Jazz Train where she impressed the crowd with her sound that was so reminiscent of Bessie Smith. She continued with the show, now known as Broadway Express, throughout Europe the next year.
Her first time on the Broadway stage was in 1970’s Purlie where she played a church soloist opposite Cleavon Little, Melba Moore and Sherman Hemsley. She also understudied the part of Missie.
Two years later, she took a role in the short run musical Inner City, a performance that brought her the 1972 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance and the 1972 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
In late 1975, she took on the role of Bessie Smith in Me & Bessie which she played for over a year and followed in 1989 with the revue Black on Blue with Ruth Brown and Carrie Smith for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical but lost to Brown.
On film, she appeared as a singer in Roots: The Next Generation and Honkytonk Man and had acting roles in such productions as the TV movie of Purlie, Go Tell It On the Mountain and even Leprechaun 2.
With all of her acting work, Hopkins still had time to work in the music business, charting with Jackie Wilson on the single Shake a Hand (1963 / #42 Pop / #21 R&B). She went on to release six albums:
Linda Hopkins (1972)
Me and Bessie (1976)
How Blue Can You Get (1982)
Here’s the Kid (1994)
Wild Women Blues (1999)
The Living Legend Live! (2006)
In 2005, Hopkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, in 2009, released her final music on the DVD Deep in the Night.