Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour winds down in Los Angeles

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Photo credit: Dorothy Hong

The spirit of Bessie Smith is alive and well. In celebration of HBO’s “Bessie” debuting this weekend, the West Coast leg of Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour commenced this week — honoring the legacy of the legendary blues singer. The film stars Oscar nominee Queen Latifah and airs on HBO on May 16, and in recognition of the highly anticipated biopic, the 81 Theatre Tour showcases up-and-coming musicians and building relationships between artists.

The West Coast festivities kicked off with an invite-only brunch held at Millwick in downtown Los Angeles. “Bessie” stars Tika Sumpter and Tory Kittles were on hand, as well as HBO Films president Len Amato and “Bessie” executive producer Shelby Stone. The breezy, laid-back vibe was merely a prelude to the rest of the week’s events.


Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Bryan-Michael Cox and songwriter Stacy Barthe hosted a songwriter workshop for artists in need of guidance as it pertains to crafting and promoting their art; and was engaging and informative, and provided everyone with an opportunity to hear some words of advice and perspective from two individuals who have experienced the industry and learned how to navigate that space.

At the music showcase, singer Luke James served as emcee, with DJ D-Nice handling the music for attendees, who mingled and moved to the sounds of a set of soulful up-and-comers primed for their breakthroughs. Among the performers were Tiffany Gouche and Kehlani, as well as trio KING.


The tour culminated with a private dinner and surprise performance by the eclectic Solange Knowles.

Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour has made stops in New York City and Atlanta before winding things down this week in Los Angeles, offering attendees three days of music and information — all in anticipation of the airing of “Bessie.” With both the film and the tour, HBO has given fans an unforgettable experience and a platform to celebrate one of the most important artists of the 20th century, the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith.

“Bessie” airs on HBO May 16 at 8 p.m. EST.

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