Bessie: The Life and Music of Bessie Smith

When: Sun., March 12, 3 p.m. 2017

Life came at Bessie Smith hard and fast. Her father died when she was still an infant, and her mother died when she was nine. Raised by an older sister, she went to work as a street busker while still a child. Bessie began working as a dancer on the black theater circuit while still in her teens, eventually transitioning to her rightful place as a singer. With her powerful voice, unique phrasing and stage presence, she became a star working for Columbia Records and earned her title "the Empress of the Blues" through a relentless touring schedule. She lived her own life, engaging in affairs with men and women, traveling in a custom-built rail car and working with all the greats (Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Joe Smith). Douglas M. Parker's play Bessie: The Life and Music of Bessie Smith gets a staged reading as part of the Black Rep's 40th anniversary season, with Denise Thimes in the role of Bessie. The play is performed at 3 p.m. today at Washington University's Edison Theatre (6445 Forsyth Boulevard; Admission is free.

Paul Friswold

Price: free admission

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