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The Devil's Music The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith
Playing at St. Luke's Theatre at 308 West 46th Street. It will be playing only on Monday evenings now. The show runs one hour thirty minutes with no intermission.
Bessie Smith was born on July 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She lost both of her parents by the time she reached her ninth birthday and was raised by her older sister Viola.
In 1912 she was hired by the Stokes troupe as a dancer.
Bessie was signed by Columbia records in 1923. She made 160 recordings with them. Smith became the highest-paid African American entertainer of her day. She was nicknamed "Empress of the Blues". In 1929 she made her only film "St. Louis Blues".
Her personal life was turbulent. She married Jack Gee a security guard on July 7, 1923. They ended their relationship, but never divorced. Her common-law husband was an old friend, Richard Morgan. He was related to Lionel Hampton uncle.
Billie died on September 26, 1937 after being critically injured in a car accident. Morgan was driving the car and escaped without injuries.
Jack Gee thwarted all effects to purchase a stone for his estranged wife by pocketing the money raised. It was not until August 7, 1970 when a tombstone was paid for by singer Janis Joplin and Juanita Green.
The play takes place on Monday October 4, 1937 and Saturday night nine days earlier in Memphis, Tennessee, in a "buffet flat" one of many private establishments around the country where Blacks could gather after hours for food, drink, gambling, lodging, entertainment and amusement of all kinds. It provided a refuge and respite from white segregation".(theatre program)
The play revolves around Bessie entertaining the audience and telling the story of her life. She flirts with the audience, comes off the stage and sings directly to them. Bessie does push it to the limits, booze, drugs, sex (both sexes) and pushing the whites. She refuses to go into a club she is suppose to be working at if she has to go in the backdoor. Bessie just leaves.
Miche Braden play Bessie Smith with such flare you believe she is the blues singer. She struts, dances, sings and pouts. Wow she sings with such gusto I want to hear more of the real Bessie Smith.
There are three musicians on stage Aaron Graves (piano), Jim Hankins (bass) and Keith Loftis (saxophone). Each interacts with Bessie. All of them carries a flask which they drink from. Bessie flirts with Keith and his sax. Jim tells some of the story and coaxes Bessie to continue her story or he corrects her version.
This show has to be seen. This is a story of women we have heard about but might have not known about her life. Miche rendition of "Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do" will take your breath away.
Review by Rozanna Radakovich.
Photos by Annazor.