My neighbor graciously invited to attend Kenny Leon and True Colors’ Gut Bucket Blues. Feeling slightly important on the front row, I was captured by the story line, cursing, and phenomenal music (although pretty upbeat to be the blues, but really great nonetheless). If you haven’t seen it, you simply must, and you only have this weekend to catch it before it’s gone.
I had heard of Bessie Smith, but I had never really known anything about her story. I just knew she was considered a great blues singer. Well, this lady had a loud, crazy, interesting life, and it made me wonder if some people have soap opera lives just so that someone in a future generation can become inspired and create a production like David Bell did. Being the inquisitive person that I am, when I got home, I googled her to see how much of the play was true to her life, and it seems that all of it was based on what really happened except the way she ended up in Atlanta to start her career.
Bessie Smith started out as a orphan being cared for by her abusive sister Viola who would lock her in the “shit house” (outhouse) as punishment. She and her brother Clarence made money by singing in front of businesses. Bessie eventually got “discovered” by the infamous Ma Rainey and learned stage presence from her. Once she launched her solo career, Bessie sold her songs like hot cakes. She was the highest paid black entertainer in her time. BUT history is still repeating itself. She wasted her money on stuff, a bunch of meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme stuff, on illegal booze, and on her wack, abusive husband. Seriously, by the time she passed away, she left nothing–didn’t even have enough to buy herself her tombstone. And according to Wikipedia, the money was raised twice to buy her one (she had thousands at her funeral–people LOVED this foul mouth, hoochie coochie woman who I started to love during the play), but her crazy, awful husband (that seems much worse than Ike was) pocketed it. She passed in 1937 but didn’t get a tombstone until 1970. The highest paid black entertainer of her day. The Empress of the Blues. No tombstone for all those years. And the cycle continues.
I really do encourage you to go see Gut Bucket Blues. It’s full of drama, a great story, and AWESOME singers. And if you’re anything like me, you will want to know more when you leave! You won’t be disappointed. I’ll leave you with some videos of the legends this play is about.
Listen to those lyrics. Such a sad reality. I guess that’s why they call it the blues though.
I feel her, but maybe it shoulda been someone else’s business. 😦