‘Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour’ celebrates the past and inspires the present


HBO’s “Bessie” is one of the biggest television events of the year, and the run-up to the highly anticipated biopic about blues legend Bessie Smith has been as entertaining as the songstress’s music itself.

At the New York City film screening, luminaries such as writer Nelson George, Grammy winner Mary J. Blige and others were mingling and raving about the project. Held at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, cast, crew and notables were on hand to get the first look at Dee Rees’ gripping drama about the life of “The Empress of the Blues.” “Bessie” stars Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, Tika Sumpter and others were in attendance, and greeted with enthusiastic applause both prior to and following the screening, with everyone chatting it up at the Edison Ballroom after-party.

Also, in recognition of the singer’s tremendous legacy, HBO launched a special two-city event series honoring Bessie Smith’s legacy — called “Bessie’s 81 Theater Tour.”

Grammy Award-winning producer Bryan-Michael Cox and singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe hosted a workshop designed to help aspiring local musicians learn tips for honing their craft; which coincided with a two city promotional tour that served as a music showcase featuring performances from local artists. In New York City, the showcase was hosted by Damien Lemon of MTV2’s “Guy Code,” with artists like Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Deva Mahal, Adeline Michele and Phony Ppl who got the crowd jumping at Manhattan’s Stephan Weiss Studios. The surprise highlight of the tour was on the following evening when superstar Janelle Monae took the stage to close things out, delivering a powerhouse performance of her hits, including “Yoga” and “Tightrope.”

HBO also hosted a screening in Atlanta this week. Stars such as Jasmine Guy, Reuben Cannon, Jasmine Burke, Karyn Greer and T.C. Carson were in attendance, which was held at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but Atlanta is a major part of her legacy. During her career, Smith held residence at Atlanta’s 81 Theatre, performing there constantly and becoming one of the biggest stars of the era.

Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour will make its way to Los Angeles May 12-14.

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