Linda Hopkins, one of Broadway’s great gospel and blues voices, died Monday in Milwaukee. She was 92. Perhaps best known for her popular one-woman show Me and Bessie — a 1970s tribute to blues singer Bessie Smith — and the 1980s revue Black and Blue, Hopkins won a Tony Award in 1972 for her show-stealing performance in the musical Inner City.
Described today by Harvey Fierstein as an “irreplaceable American original,” Hopkins’ success in Black and Blue — in which she shared the stage with Ruth Brown and Carrie Smith in the 1989 tribute to Harlem’s Cotton Club — earned her another Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. She lost to Brown.
Hopkins was born Melinda Helen Matthews in New Orleans on December 14, 1924. Discovered by Mahalia Jackson, she began her career as a touring gospel vocalist in the mid-193os. She made her Broadway debut in 1970’s Purlie and played a blues singer in Clint Eastwood’s 1982 movie Honkytonk Man. She also appeared 1974’s The Education of Sonny Carson and the 1978 MLK miniseries King and played a gospel singer in a 1979 episode of Roots: The Next Generation. She performed several times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
She continued to play concerts until suffering a stroke 10 years ago.
Her death was confirmed by her great-niece to The New York Times. She leaves no other immediate survivors.
Here are some remembrances: