Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith (“Bricktop”), vaudevillian actress, singer, nightclub owner, and international celebrity host, was born August 14, 1894 in Alderson, West Virginia, to Thomas and Hattie Thompson Smith. Her father passed away in 1898 and Mrs. Smith moved Ada and her three older siblings to Chicago, where her mother managed rooming houses and worked as a maid. Smith began performing at the age of five, playing Harry in Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Haymarket Theater in Chicago. By age 14 Smith earned a permanent chorus role at the Pekin Theatre. A truancy officer tracked her down, however, and she was forced to quit performing and return to school.
At age 16 Smith began touring with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA) and Pantages vaudeville circuits. The young performer appeared alongside vaudevillian entertainers such as Miller and Lyles and the Kinky-Doo Trio. It was during this time that she earned the nickname “Bricktop” which referred to her bright red hair and freckles. Throughout her twenties Smith performed in a wide variety of locations including Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. Baron’s Exclusive Club in Harlem became one of her regular venues and during her time there she convinced the owner to hire Elmer Snowden’s Washingtonian’s band, which included an undiscovered Duke Ellington.
Smith first performed in Paris, France in 1924 at the Le Grand Duc nightclub. It was at this time she began hosting and entertaining at charity events and parties for celebrities, where she befriended influential artists such as the authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck, and the composer and musician Cole Porter. Porter wrote a song for Smith titled, “Miss Otis Regrets She’s Unable to Lunch Today.” In 1926 Smith became more involved with the Paris nightclub scene, regularly performing at The Music Box and Le Grand Duc.
In 1929 Smith married New Orleans musician Peter Conge and moved her nightclub to 66 Rue Pigalle, where singer Mabel Mercer became the main