› What: Icon Tribute to Bessie Smith
› Where: Jazzanooga Arts Space, 431 E. M.L. King Blvd.
› When: 7-9 p.m. today, April 20
› Admission: $15
› Phone: 423-402-0452
› Online: timesfreepress.com/music
Jazzanooga is celebrating National Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) with a tribute to a jazz icon each week in April during its JAM Fest. Coincidentally, the late, great Bessie Smith's birthday is also in April, so including her was obvious, says Shane Morrow, Jazzanooga director.
Smith was the highest-paid black performer during her heydays in the 1920s and '30s. With incomparable timing, phrasing and a distinctive contralto voice, she earned the nickname "The Empress of the Blues." The native Chattanoogan made 160 recordings for Columbia during her career, and three of her singles were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Singer Neshawn Calloway will present her Bessie Smith tribute tonight at Jazzanooga, accompanied by a five-piece band. One set will be Bessie Smith songs, Calloway says, the second set R&B classics.
"Neshawn just embodies the spirit and soul of Bessie in the way she performs," says Morrow. "I knew when we were coming up with features for this program that I wanted her to come. It's almost like she transcends to another place when she performs."
Calloway became interested in the Empress years ago when she worked as an intern at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
Since her first tribute performance in 1996, her presentation has evolved over the years as she has learned more about Smith, she says. Between numbers she shares some of that information about Smith's life and career with her audience.
Calloway says her particular favorites to perform are "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home?"
On Sunday, April 23, Jazzanooga hosts its monthly Jazz Brunch at 1:30 p.m. Dipped Fresh will cater the meal followed with music performed by Morrow.
"I'm going back to my roots and sing and play," says Jazzanooga's director.
"I performed for years. When I started Jazzanooga, I put my energy into programs and put performing live on the back burner. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to showcase my favorite songs in jazz and gospel."
Morrow reminds jazz fans that the space only seats 60, so advance ticket purchase is wise.
Tickets may be purchased by clicking the ticket link on Jazzanooga's Facebook page.