Another concept has been given the go-ahead is an HBO Films presentation. This one is about the iconic blues performer Bessie Smith who will be personified by Queen Latifah. The work will depict how the singer became titled “Empress of the Blues” during her career in the 1920s and ‘30s. It is based on a biography titled Bessie by Chris Albertson.
Bessie Smith made 160 records for Columbia records in the day, accompanied by many include Louie Armstrong; she even entertained by hitting Broadway and then the “talkies.” By the time the Swing era was born she was huge and returned to recording exclusively. She died in 1937 when she was refused treatment when rushed to a ‘white only” hospital after a terrible car accident. Her unmarked grave eventually received a tombstone in 1970 which was paid for the Janis Joplin.
The TV-movie will be written & directed by award winning filmmaker Dee Rees and produced by the Zanuck Company in association with Queen Latifah. Mo’Nique, from the movie Precious and Khandi Alexander, from ABC’s Scandal and TREME, have already signed on in supporting roles. Mo’Nique will play Ma Rainey, one of the first professional blues singers billed on the professional scene and given the moniker “The Mother of the Blues” and Alexander will take the role of Bessie’s older sister Viola who was forced to raise Bessie after the death of their parents.
Also signed for a role is Charles S. Dutton, who has many a credit including appearances in an episode each of OZ and THE SOPRANOS, as William “Pa” Rainey, husband to Monique’s character. Mr. D. is not a character to the music and the era as he was in August Wilson’s Broadway production Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Mike Epps, a rapper/actor, who appeared in HBO’s THE SOPRANOS and DEF COMEDY JAM, plays Richard Morgan. He is noted as a bootlegger and a romantic interest for Bessie Smith. One other noted actor involved is Michael K. Williams who is no stranger to HBO with roles in THE WIRE and BOARDWALK EMPIRE. He will play Bessie’s husband, Jack Gee.
I always appreciate the HBO Films presentations and this one looks promising. Especially since more and more talents are added to the project. Production is about to get underway for the HBO Film as proved by this news from Covington, Georgia. It seems a number of environs around the southern town will turn into sets soon. I am looking forward to the results of Queen Latifah’s time with HBO and the sounds of Bessie Smith. Is anyone else?
It is only right to conclude with some Bessie Smith, right? So here she is in a racy little number called “I’m Crazy For That Thing.”