A Night to Honor Hannah Block
North Carolinians came together on November 8, 1997, to honor one the state’s civic leaders and pathbreaking women. Born in 1913 in Virginia, Hannah Block (née Solomon) studied music at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. After completing her studies, Block ventured to New York City where she forged her way as a jazz singer and performed in some of Manhattan’s most popular night spots. While in New York, Block met her future husband Charles Morris Block. After they married, the couple settled in Wilmington, N.C. where Charles was a partner in a manufacturing company.
Block embraced her new home with verve and spirit. During World War II, she became the first woman to serve as head lifeguard at Carolina Beach, where she taught swimming and lifesaving courses for the Red Cross. The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 inspired Block to become more involved with the war effort. Bringing new life and depth to her jazz career, she volunteered her time performing for troops at the local USO. Block organized and trained a group of 60 young women who visited and entertained soldiers on nearby military bases before their deployment overseas.Towards the war’s end, Block enlisted volunteers to welcome GI’s back to the U.S. and to help them readjust to life as civilians. One friend fondly dubbed Hannah Block “Mrs. World War II Wilmington.”
After the war, Hannah Block remained active in civic life. She served twice as president of the local American Legion Auxiliary and organized many pageants, turning them into, as she put it, “more than a swimsuit contest on the beach.” In her late 40s, she became the first woman to serve on the Wilmington City Council, and later, the first woman to serve as the city’s mayor pro tempore. Block also led efforts in Wilmington to preserve and restore buildings of historical significance.
One of these buildings was the USO center Block has performed in decades earlier. The building, which had served as Wilmington’s Community Arts Center since 1973, was renamed in 1997 in honor of Block. That same year on November 8th, the Community Arts Center in the “Hannah Block Historic USO” put on a jazz and cabaret review to honor Block. At the event, Block was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest honors recognizing service to the state.
Hannah Block passed away in her home in Wilmington on November 13, 2009 at the age of 96. She is survived by two children, five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and a legacy as one of North Carolina’s most public spirited citizens.
To learn more about Hannah Block, visit We Remember.
See also: We Remember Those the New York Times Won't, Jewesses with Attitude.