Leslie Hutchinson

Black and white photo of a young Leslie Hutchinson, a black man with cropped hair wearing a sweater, puffy pants, and boots. He smiles widely.

Black and white photo of a young Leslie Hutchinson, a black man with cropped hair wearing a sweater, puffy pants, and boots. He smiles widely.

“He bought a Rolls-Royce, a grand house in Hampstead, patronised London's best tailors, spoke five or six languages and was on friendly terms with the Prince of Wales. But he was still a black man in an era of racial discrimination. When he entertained at lavish Mayfair parties, his fee was large, but he was often obliged to go in by the servants' entrance. This embittered him.”

– Thorton Micheal

A complex issue within the queer community, and looking back we see it has been an issue throughout queer history, is that of adultery. Something often painted as a clear black and white issue becomes blurrier as you look at it through a queer lens. In an ideal world, everyone would communicate with their partners and be transparent about their wants and needs, but that is not the world we live in nor have we ever. The further back you go, the more confusing the decision becomes. It is difficult to pass judgment on a queer person who may have been pressured to marry or enter a relationship for seeking people outside of that arrangement. While there is a glorious history of spouses supporting their queer partners, that is not a universal or even common experience.

We must also consider that some relationships read at the time as adulterous were, in fact, polyamorous, a relationship structure that has fluctuated wildly in and out of social acceptability. Usually, the approach of this project has been to mention the facts while avoiding judgment one way or the other. As we look at the life of Leslie Hutchinson, that strategy becomes harder to lean on because of the sheer amount of people with whom he had relationships. Intentionally or not, it would be difficult not to look upon these choices piling up and have a negative reaction, and you would not necessarily be wrong in that. It must be pointed out though the contexts and complicated dynamics that played into the many relationships of Leslie Hutchinson’s life.

Born in Grenada on March 7, 1900, Leslie Hutchinson grew up on the island until he was sixteen when he was sent to New York City in the United States to go to college and become a doctor. Soon after he arrived, he changed course and dove headfirst into the culture and community of Harlem. Having taken piano lessons as a child he was quick to find himself in the musical community that was thriving at the time. In his time in New York City that he met and married Ella Byrd, a woman who we have little information about outside of her relationship with Hutchinson.

Though he started out playing in bars, Hutchinson was noticed for his piano and vocal talent and joined an all-black band led by Henry Jones. It was through this that Hutchinson began to interact with higher class white people of the time, something that the Ku Klux Klan was trying to smother.

Seeing the violence displayed by the Ku Klux Klan, Hutchinson moved to Paris which was believed to be a haven for black performers at the time. It was there that he met Cole Porter and began a relationship. While still in Paris he had a daughter, Lesley Bagley Yvonne.

In 1927 he was convinced by Edwina Mountbatten to move to England to perform in a musical. It was in England that his popularity more or less exploded. A favourite musician of a few royal family members, he was invited to play at many high-class events. Though he was also very much enjoyed on a personal level by many people in society and admired for his skill he was still forced to come in through the servant's entrance, something that hurt him.

While in England Hutchinson fathered seven more children with six different mothers: Gordon (1928), Gabrielle (1930), Jennifer (October 1939), Gerald and Chris (1948), Graham (1953), and Emma (April 1965).

One of the women Hutchinson had a child with was British debutante Elizabeth Corbett, who upon her family discovering the pregnancy was married off quickly to an army officer. The truth of the child's parentage was discovered when they were born, and the child was given up for adoption.

Hutch also had a long term relationship with Edwina Mountbatten, another married woman. In fact, she was a white woman who had married into the royal family. Both she and her husband were also bisexual and both had, after many conflicts over affairs, agreed to open their relationship. It was because of this that Edwina felt so comfortable being public with her relationship with Hutchinson: buying him expensive things and exchanging romantic gestures with him publicly.

For a while, many people accepted their relationship without much fuss, but when the news of it eventually made it to tabloid things changed drastically. In a mistake that benefitted Edwina greatly, the tabloid had named another black man as her lover, specifically a man that she had never met. So she was able to take them to court and sue for libel.

Unfortunately, most within the royal family knew the truth and cut contact completely with Hutchinson. He was no longer invited to play at events and was pulled from BBC broadcasts. He went from being one of the most famous and well-paid musicians in the country to being completely shunned.

All his wealthy patrons abandoned him, including Edwina. He lost money quickly and died destitute of pneumonia in 1969.

Throughout his life, Hutchinson was forced to endure the constantly changing standards because of his race.

Thorton Micheal wrote of his life:

“He bought a Rolls-Royce, a grand house in Hampstead, patronised London's best tailors, spoke five or six languages and was on friendly terms with the Prince of Wales. But he was still a black man in an era of racial discrimination. When he entertained at lavish Mayfair parties, his fee was large, but he was often obliged to go in by the servants' entrance. This embittered him.”

While the frequency of his affairs was absolutely harmful to his wife, it should be noted that he was not the only married person in his extramarital relationships. Because of his race, he was punished much more harshly than anyone else was. That being said there is an element of privilege because of his gender; he was able to up and leave in a way the women weren’t once they had children.

Though the Mountbatten’s paid for his funeral arrangements, she more or less abandoned him after their affair was forced to end. Though early on she showered him in gifts and helped him make connections, she cut ties when he needed her the most. His entire career was taken from him, all his accomplishments ignored because he had slept with a white woman; a woman who went on to live a full and happy life, experiencing little blowback from the situation.

While we started discussing the complexity of a situation of a queer person cheating on their spouse, race is another element that plays a large part in muddying these waters. This man was imperfect. He was bisexual and was not in a situation where he was married to someone of a gender he was not attracted to, but those imperfections have been ignored when looking at the lives of many white queer people from history. In the end, it was not his queerness that caused such a massive backlash, but his race.

As mentioned before, Edwina was in much the same position as he was. She was a bisexual person who slept with people outside of her marriage, even if later her husband agreed to the relationship, that was not public knowledge. Only one person in their relationship was forced to face true consequences.

When looking at queer history, a queer lens is assumed, but it is also important to acknowledge that often queerphobia is not the most prominent marginalization a person will face. In a world where the most famous historical queer figures are generally white, there is a certain narrative assumed. It becomes all the more important then not to allow tunnel vision to distract from other issues that were possibly more prominent in a queer person’s life.

[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]

Chadbourne, E. (2006, May 1). Leslie Hutchinson. Retrieved from https://www.allmusic.com/artist/leslie-hutchinson-mn0000250830

Cobbinah, A. (2018, October 25). Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson: scandal in the wind. Camden New Journal. Retrieved from http://camdennewjournal.com/article/leslie-hutch-hutchinson-scandal-in-the-wind

Hutchinson, L. A. Sophisticated Lady [Recorded by L. A. Hutchinson. [Shellac Record]. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/78_sophisticated-lady_hutch-leslie-a.-hutchinson-howard-barnes-mills-parish-elling_gbia0002815a

Hutchinson, Leslie (1900-1969) AKA Hutch. (2018, September 6). https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/leslie-hutchinson/

Leslie Arthur Julien “Hutch” Hutchinson, From Harlem To Hampstead, 1900 – 1969. (2017, September 28). Harlem World Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.harlemworldmagazine.com/leslie-arthur-julien-hutch-hutchinson-harlem-hampstead-1900-1969/

Leslie Hutchinson. (2016, April 3). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/artist/1915931-Leslie-Hutchinson-2

Wilson, C. (2013, October 14). The scandalous truth about Downton Abbey’s royal gigolo 'Jack Ross.' The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/10377794/The-scandalous-truth-about-Downton-Abbeys-royal-gigolo-Jack-Ross.html