Queen Latifah to portray Bessie Smith in HBO biopic
Blues legend Bessie Smith is the subject of a small-screen biopic coming to HBO later this year. It looks to be a first-class production and will feature Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah in the title role.
Hard to believe, but it’s been 25 years since Latifah released her debut album, a hip-hop affair that set the pattern for her ‘90s output. Latifah demonstrated that she has serious vocal chops, however, on “The Dana Owens Album” (2004) and “Trav’lin’ Light” (2007), which found her singing vintage jazz and pop material including “Lush Life,” “Moody’s Mood for Love,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” “California Dreaming,” “Poetry Man” and “I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl.” Great stuff, as were her performances in “Bringing Out the Dead,” “Chicago” and “Stranger Than Fiction.”
That said, Latifah has noted in press interviews that she had a lot to learn about Smith before taking on the project.
"I had no idea who Bessie Smith was, to be honest with you," she told USA Today. "I had to become familiar with who she was in particular."
But once she did discover facts about the legendary musician, she was more than just surprised. Bessie is famed for being one of the founders of blues back in the 1920s, and is currently noted as an inspiration for much of today's jazz music.
"I was just blown away," explained Queen. "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."
Queen herself is most known for her hip-hop prowess. She told the publication that when the role of Bessie was first presented to her by producers, she was more interested in rap and had no knowledge of the blues mother. But she's since altered her perspective.
"The blues, the blues, I've gained such a great amount of respect for the blues," Queen gushed. "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."
The Bessie Smith biopic follows her life as she struggles to overcome personal issues to become a superstar in the music industry. It's based on both her life and Chris Albertson's biography of her, and the script was penned and will be directed by Dee Rees.
A release date for Bessie is yet to be announced, but it'll premiere on HBO sometime in 2015.
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