IF YOU GO
What: "Bessie and the Blues: From the Big Nine to Broadway."
When: 7 p.m. today.
Where: Mountain Arts Community Center, 809 Kentucky Ave., Signal Mountain.
Admission: $15 at the door.
Through song and storytelling, Neshawn Calloway will embody the Empress of the Blues Bessie Smith when she presents "Bessie and the Blues: From the Big Nine to Broadway" tonight at the Mountain Arts Community Center on Signal Mountain.
Describing her one-woman show as part tribute/part impersonation, Calloway said she does "the whole costume, and I tell the story as if I'm Bessie."
Smith is regarded as one of the greatest singers of the 1920s-30s. The Chattanoogan made 160 recordings for Columbia Records, and three of her singles have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame ("Downhearted Blues," "St. Louis Blues" and "Empty Bed Blues").
Calloway said she first became interested in the late singer when she started an internship 16 years ago at what was then called the Bessie Smith Hall (now Bessie Smith Cultural Center.)
"I didn't even know who she was until I started there. Part of my job as an intern was to research, find items about Bessie and her life, then write excerpts to go in the exhibit. While reading books and finding out more about her, I became intrigued," said Calloway.
The result is an hourlong show that Calloway's colleague, Allan Ledford, describes as multimedia presentation that includes "rare footage of Bessie Smith, highlights and low times from Bessie's life as well as Neshawn bringing Bessie back to life through her music."
Calloway said during the first portion of the show she'll perform jazz standards such as "Come Fly With Me" and "Fly Me to the Moon." She'll be accompanied by pianist Marcia Smith and Dexter Bell on bass.
"The second half is my tribute to Bessie. I will tell her life story with clips of interviews with Bessie's niece intermittently spaced throughout the show. I'll sing some of her songs such as 'St. Louis Blues.' A lot of people don't know that when she did the original recording for 'St. Louis Blues' it was with Louis Armstrong. My favorite to sing is 'A Good Man's Hard To Find.'"
Earlier this summer, Calloway spent five days in sister city Hamm, Germany, presenting this tribute to Bessie Smith. She said proceeds from tonight's performance will help reimburse expenses of that trip.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...