For some reason, a decent portion of today’s entertainment news is all about Bessie Smith. Which is a great thing, because the under-appreciated “Empress of the Blues” has deserved her due in the media as well as American musical history for well over half a century. Thanks to Queen Latifah, who committed to bringing Bessie’s story to life after 22 years in development, HBO will air the biopic “Bessie”, written and directed by Dee Rees (“Pariah”), on May 16. The movie also stars Khandi Alexander, Tika Sumpter, Mike Epps and Academy Award winner Monique as Ma Rainey.
Not only did Good Black News have the great fortune to be part of today’s HuffPost Live interview with “Bessie” director Rees (which you can watch by clicking the link above or right here), HBO also announced its launch of a special two-city event series in New York this week honoring the legacy of the blues-jazz singer called “Bessie’s 81 Theater Tour.”
The event, which will coincide with the New York and Los Angeles premieres of the biopic starring Queen Latifah, will feature a workshop lead by Grammy Award-winning producer Bryan Michael Cox and singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe. The workshop will be offered to local artists in an effort to mimic the creative music process once used by Smith and her peers.
“In today’s music, I believe the constant utilization of live instrumentation is missing,” Cox said in a statement emailed to HuffPost. “Whenever that element is injected into popular music in this era, the song usually becomes a hit. One great example of this is Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk.’”
In addition to the artist workshop, the two-city promotional tour will also feature a music showcase comprised of a series of performances from local artists. It will conclude with a private dinner for native influencers and a surprise performance by an “A-list artist.”
“When thinking about how we wanted to build buzz about the film, we wanted to do something that was completely unique and immersive,” Lucinda Martinez, SVP of HBO Multicultural Marketing said in a press release for the event.
“We’re confident that this event series properly honors the legacy of Bessie Smith by showcasing aspiring songwriters and producers. We want to raise awareness for the film, create connections and offer these young creatives a platform to share their craft.”
The “Bessie’s 81 Theater Tour” will conclude in Los Angeles next month leading up to the May 16 premiere of “Bessie” on HBO.
In the meantime, if you want a Bessie Smith fix before then, we suggest checking out her only appearance on film performing her iconic “St. Louis Blues” below:
article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, Good Black News Founder and Editor-In-Chief