published Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Bessie's legacy: Portraits, photographs depict musical greats of past 70 years

Billie Holiday is pictured with a canine friend in June 1946. The image is part of a collection, "Songs From the Soul," on view at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center this week.
Billie Holiday is pictured with a canine friend in June 1946. The image is part of a collection, "Songs From the Soul," on view at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center this week.
  • photo
    This photo of Louis Jordan and pals is part of the collection of photos of black entertainers on display at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center this week.

ARTS BRIEFS

* ATHENS ARTS CENTER — 320 N. White St., Athens, Tenn. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. Free admission. 423-745-8781, www.athensartscouncil.org. "Classwork: Adult Students of the Arts Center 2011-12," exhibit of works in a variety of media, through Friday.

* HUNTER MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART — 10 Bluff View. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Tuesday; noon-5 p.m. Wednesday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $9.95 adults, $4.95 children. 267-0968. www.huntermuseum.org. "Chattanooga Gems III," works from private collections, Saturday-Oct. 21.

* JEWISH CULTURAL CENTER — 5461 N. Terrace. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and by appointment. 493-0270, ext. 13. "Tranquil Space," exhibit of photographs, drawings and sculptures of sacred buildings, gardens, and commercial and private properties by Steve Wade Brown, Irv Ginsburg, Dana Shavin, Jenny Shugart, Roses Taylor and Dana Waxler, Monday-Sept. 14. Opening reception, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23.

Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Mariah Carey are appearing at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

They're joined, in an extraordinary array of musical talent, by Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin.

But they're appearing only through the end of the week.

The artists are among 37 whose portraits or photographs are on display in "Songs From the Soul," which celebrates contributions to the country's musical history, popular culture and the civil-rights movement.

Curator and education director Carmen Davis said the display provides "an evolution of [recent] African-American music here in the United States. It's also a content exhibition because it gives you great information about the artists."

The traveling exhibition consists primarily of large-format, original illustrations by international portrait artist Wolfram Schramm of Gerlingen, Germany, and black-and-white photographs from the William P. Gottlieb Collection, "Photographs From the Golden Age of Jazz," in the Library of Congress.

The artists range from jazz greats of the 1940s and 1950s to today's pop star Mariah Carey.

The head-and-shoulder illustrations, for instance, portray a smiling pop/R&B and blues singer Aretha Franklin in a tall bouffant and garbed in a pink boa-like outfit. Pop singer Michael Jackson, meanwhile, gazes out soulfully in a more subdued work as his trademark curls cascade over his face.

Among the photographs, Louis Armstrong, donned in a checkered robe, reclines in a chair as he practices his trumpet. A young Billie Holiday sits in front of her dressing table with a canine companion in a second seat. A stolid Ella Fitzgerald, meanwhile, gazes in the distance.

Davis said the photos are especially interesting.

"Some of them seem so personal," she said. "They are really unique photos."

A photo of jazz great Duke Ellington seated among his wardrobe and the detritus of his dressing room is Davis' favorite.

"He looks so cool and comfortable," she said.

Gottlieb must have had wide access to the stars, Davis said.

"He was always on the scene, always in the scene," she said.

To accentuate the collection, which is circulated by ArtVision Exhibitions of Boca Raton, Fla., Davis said, the center added seven paintings loaned by Rondell Crier, a New Orleans native who now lives in Chattanooga; a costume and tour accouterments used by former Chattanooga resident Usher that are part of the center's permanent collection; and an African banjo and other instruments that also are part of the permanent collection.

The instruments, she said, allow visitors to make the connection between the African heritage of most of the singers and their influence in American music.

"Everything ties together," Davis said.

The collection may be viewed as part of a tour of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd. The hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults, $3 children for children ages 6-12 and $5 for seniors and students. For more information, call 266-8658.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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