Queen Latifah‘s Bessie Smith movie finally receives a release date. The HBO film will premiere in the spring on May 16th, and it also stars Mo’Nique, Charles S. Dutton, and Mike Epps. Latifah will play blues singer Bessie Smith in the musical biography, which will center around Smith’s role as one of the founding mothers of the blues in the 1920s. The name Bessie Smith may not sound familiar to most people today. Even Queen Latifah had never heard of the blues singer before. “I had no idea who Bessie Smith was, to be honest with you… I had to become familiar with who she was in particular,” the singer-actress revealed at a press junket.
The Bessie Smith movie idea was first presented to Latifah when she was 22 years old. The twenty-two year time-lapse has allowed Latifah to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for Bessie Smith and blues music. “The blues, the blues, I’ve gained such a great amount of respect for the blues…the blues are just as stunning to me now as when this first came to me. If anything, I feel like I have a little more of the story of what Bessie had to say,” Latifah stated. Bessie Smith was the most recognized female blues singer of the 1920s, and she was also referred to as The Empress of the Blues.
Smith is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era. Smith’s success as a blues artist earned her a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1923. Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues” sold 800,000 copies, and she became one of the highest-paid African-American performers of the 1920s. Smith’s powerful voice placed her at the top of the blues circuit, which allowed her to tour extensively. Bessie Smith’s fame started to decline in the late 1930s, but her true talent never faded away. Queen Latifah recounted her amazement when she first heard a Bessie Smith recording, “I was just blown away. I could hear her voice in so many people who came after her…If there was a Bessie Smith alive today, she’d blow everyone else out of the water. I could never match her true ability.”
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