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Biographies Vera Hall (1902-1964)

Vera Hall
Vera Hall (Adell Hall Ward) at her home in Livingston, Alabama, October 1959. Photo by Alan Lomax. Used with the permission of the Association for Cultural Equity. Alan Lomax Collection AFC2004004_01010472.

Adell Hall Ward, an African American folk singer better known as Vera Hall, was born in Livingston Alabama April 6, 1902. Her mother, Agnes, and father, Efron "Zully" Hall, taught her traditional spirituals such as "Home in the Rock." As a young girl she became well known in the community for her singing. In 1917, Hall married Nash Riddle, a coal miner, and gave birth to their daughter, Minnie Ada. After her husband was killed in a fight in 1923 or 1924, Hall supported herself as a cook and washerwoman.[1] Although she did not become a professional singer, she gained national attention through recordings made by folk song collectors and published by Folkways Records, the Library of Congress, and the Alabama Folklife Association.

Hall was first recorded by folklorist Ruby Pickens Tartt, who had been asked to document spirituals as part of a WPA Federal Writer's Project assignment in 1937.[2] Folklorist John Avery Lomax became aware of Hall as a result of Tartt's recordings and then recorded her for the Library of Congress. Alan Lomax also sought her out and made recordings of her in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Recordings of Vera Hall made by John and Ruby Lomax in 1939 are available online as part of this presentation. These include solo performances, as well as songs sung with her cousin, Dock Reed; and with Albert Allison and Jesse Allison Jr. Dock Reed only sang religious music, deeming other types of music sinful, so recordings of the two performing together are of hymns and spirituals. Hall did sing secular songs for the Lomaxes, such as the love song "Carrie," and performed children's game songs such as "Hold the Gate," which she presented with spoken commands that the players might say to each other between the verses.

Byron Arnold, a professor of music at the University of Alabama, recorded Vera Hall in 1945. In 1984, two of these recordings were released by the Alabama Folklife Association on Cornbread Crumbled in Gravy, a collection of folk songs performed by various singers.[3]

In 1948, with the help of Alan Lomax, Hall traveled to New York and performed on May 15 at the American Music Festival at Columbia University.

Hall died in January 1964 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

  1. "Vera Hall," Encyclopedia of AlabamaExternal Link [back to biography]
  2. ibid. [back to biography]
  3. Cornbread Crumbled in Gravy: Historical Alabama Field Recording from the Byron Arnold Collection of Traditional Tunes, produced by Joy Baklanoff, 1984. Two songs on this recording are by Vera Hall and Dock Reed. This audiocassetteis available from the Alabama Folklife Association External Link and includes a liner note booklet. [back to biography]