Hitting the Books with CBS’s “Ghosts” – Alberta Haynes

A trip down history – Get to know the specters of CBS’s “Ghosts” better with this booklist

This week’s installment of Hitting the Books with CBS’s Ghosts puts the spotlight on the greatest singer of all time, Alberta Haynes.

Played by Danielle Pinnock, Alberta is a jazz singer who seems to have died in the 1920s. This assumption stems from her references to Prohibition and bootleggers. In “Alberta’s Fan,” it is revealed that she died drinking moonshine that was laced with poison.



My guess is that Alberta Haynes is possibly based on four women who were jazz and blues singers; these being Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith and Alberta Hunter.[1] All four are musical icons of the 1920s and had incredible careers. For Bessie Smith, I’d recommend reading Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga. I also think everyone should listen to Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues.” It’s not only an incredible song, but it was also co-written by Alberta Hunter. (Don’t worry, we’ll circle back to her.)

Sadly, for Mamie Smith, I couldn’t find any books about her. So for Smith, I’d recommend reading this New York Times article about how important her song, “Crazy Blues,” was to the music industry. You can listen to it here.

[1] Of note, there are dozens of more 1920s jazz and blues singers who could have also shaped the creation of Alberta Haynes, but these are the four who stand out the most to me.



A variety of books have been written about Ma Rainey, so I want to instead recommend that you watch Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It was a 1982 play that adapted into a Netflix film in 2020, and that starred Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. The trailer is here and check out Davis’s performance of “Deep Moaning Blues.”



Returning to Alberta Hunter, I have no evidence that she influenced the creation of Alberta Haynes. However, in addition to their names being similar, Hunter’s singing career started in a bordello and she was active in Chicago during the 1920s; a period known for mobsters and bootleggers. It is safe to assume that Hunter lived a life with the types of colorful characters Haynes frequently brings up.

Beyond that, Hunter retired in the 1950s but then had a career resurgence in the 1970s because after she retired from being a nurse. This last act of her career re-introduced her to old fans and made her known to another generation of pop culture. Making it likely that some of the creatives on Ghosts might have heard of her.

Anyhow, here is Hunter giving a shoutout to Bessie Smith and then singing “Nobody Knows  You When You’re Down and Out.”



With that said, a general book about African Americans and jazz that I’d recommend is African Americans in the Jazz Age: A decade of Struggle and Promise. It is one of the best texts on this topic. If you just want to learn about the popular jazz songs from the 1920s, then The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s is a must read.

This has not even been hinted at in Ghosts, but I’m willing to bet that if Alberta was real then she would have heard of the Axeman of New Orleans. The Axeman is the name given to an unknown figured who murdered various people in New Orleans in 1919. This story was well known in New Orleans for years afterwards. The Ghoul Boys, formerly of Buzzfeed and now of Watcher Entertainment, covered this mystery here.



If you know of any other Jazz Era murder mysteries, mention them in the comments. I love a good ghost story with jazz.

For more information about Ghosts, check out its homepage and follow it on Twitter @GhostsCBS.

And remember to follow me on Twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow ScifiPulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

[1] Of note, there are dozens of more 1920s jazz and blues singers who could have also shaped the creation of Alberta Haynes, but these are the four who stand out the most to me.


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