A rare gem was presented at the Smithsonian Institution's Baird Auditorium last night. The warm, rich tones blazed with fiery emotions and the lustrous finish sparkled with a cool charm. The smooth stone was Alberta Hunter, the sappire of the blues.

Like most precious minerals, Hunter, 83, has been around for awhile and her set included a varied selection of songs from her musical and theatrical career. Show tunes, cabaret numbers, songs in Yiddish and French were featured, along with blues standards.

Whether standing on stage with her elbow on the piano, slapping her hips, clapping along with the music or giving a sly wink to the crowd, Hunter's voice and style were all blues and nothing but the blues. She sent out bright, sharp phrases and then pulled them back at the very last moment. Her voice went high and then melted into a soft "blue" note. She grabbed the lyrics, shook them, stomped on them and then picked them up and caressed them.

Alberta Hunter has a presence and a love for her material that transcends musical styles and time itself. After a spicy number about a "Handyman," Hunter looked at everyone mischievously and said, "It's all in the condition of the mind."

Maybe so, The rest of her didn't do too badly either.