Arden Elizabeth Case Hill, 83, of Philadelphia, who first made her mark as a teenager performing opera and other music on a local radio show, died Friday, Feb. 7, at Einstein Medical Center from complications of a stroke.
Mrs. Hill gained local fame as a regular performer on Parisian Tailor’s Colored Kiddies’ Radio Hour, a show aimed at an African American audience. It was first broadcast at the Lincoln Theatre, which once stood at Broad and Lombard Streets, said her son, Jerrold Martin Hill. It was later broadcast from the Royal Theater on South Street near 15th.
The show spotlighted the talents of African American children and teens as an alternative to the Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour, which only showcased white children. It usually opened with Mrs. Hill’s classical rendition of the song Let Us Break Bread Together, her son said.
By appearing as a regular on the show, Mrs. Hill, whom her son described as shy and introverted, gained opportunities for classical voice training.
She loved to sing the jazz classics as she prepared meals in her kitchen, especially Someone to Watch Over Me, Jerrold Hill said. “One of her favorite versions was by Sarah Vaughan, and she loved Dinah Washington. But it was Ella Fitzgerald’s version that sounds so similar to my mom’s," he said.
She was especially proud of her grandson Bobby Hill, who at 14 also earned early fame when he sang for Pope Francis at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2015.
“Whenever Bobby did a big performance, whether it was singing for the pope, or opening the Democratic National Convention, we would take him to see her, and he would sing it again for her at the nursing home," Jerrold Hill said.
She couldn’t speak because of a stroke. Instead, he said, “she would smile and would well up with tears. It was a very emotional thing for her.
“This is my mother’s legacy,” he said.
Mrs. Hill was born in Camden, N.J., the fourth of five children of Lillian Serena Jefferson and Edward Nicholas Alexander Case. The family later moved to West Philadelphia, where Mrs. Hill attended McMichael Elementary and later graduated from West Philadelphia High School.
In addition to singing for the radio show, she performed at Monumental Baptist Church.
After high school, Mrs. Hill accompanied her younger sister Laverne and her boyfriend on a blind date with the man Mrs. Hill would later marry, Joseph R. Hill Jr., who had just returned from serving in the Army. The couple married in 1957 and remained together for 62 years.
Despite her high school yearbook’s prediction that she would one day perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, Mrs. Hill decided to become a full-time homemaker. She devoted herself to her husband and three children, Jerrold Hill said.
"My mother dedicated her life to her children and grandchildren,” he said. "She was nonjudgmental; you could talk with her about anything. She was completely supportive and full of advice. When there were no words, she knew when to hug you. She would tell you it would be OK.”
In later years, as her children had families of their own, they often got together for dinner. But Thanksgiving meals were her specialty, her son said.
“She didn’t allow anyone to make anything or bring any food. She ordered her turkey from a farmers’ market two weeks in advance and began cooking the Thanksgiving dinner three days before."
In addition to her husband, son,, and grandson, Mrs. Hill is survived by a son, Jeffrey; a daughter, Cheryl Donnell; eight other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.