The Devil’s Music at Hattiloo 

"Had a dream last night/That I was dead

Had a dream last night/That I was dead,

Evil spirits all around my bed. — Bessie Smith, "Blue Spirit Blues"

Bessie Smith would find her way to Memphis eventually, but the Empress of the Blues got her start singing in the Chattanooga streets. Like so many blues artists, Smith, whose life and times are chronicled in the The Devil's Music, opening at the Hattiloo this week, earned her royal title the hard way. When she was a child and food was scarce, Smith would sing and dance the corner of 13th and Elm Street in front of Chattanooga's White Elephant Saloon with her older brother Andrew playing guitar. Better times were on the way, though. At the height of her recording career, she was America's highest-earning black artist, headlining her own revue and touring the country in style in her own, customized boxcar.

click to enlarge werecbox_bessiesmith.jpg

The Devil's Music isn't a solo performance, but it might as well be. Although she has her bassist Pickles to riff with, this is a conversation between Smith and the audience, and pieces of the influential singer's colorful story are told between songs like "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" and "Sugar in My Bowl."

Set in a Memphis buffet flat, where strong drink, girls, and games of chance are all available, The Devil's Music is a frank account of the hard-drinking, careless-loving, unapologetically bisexual singer's life. It takes audiences down to various crossroads as Bessie tells blue jokes and recounts her rise touring in minstrel shows with Ma Rainey, her triumphs and tribulations.

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

News Blog

Layoffs Again Hit Commercial Appeal Newsroom

Hungry Memphis

The Return of BreakFest

Fly On The Wall Blog

Murder Owl Wins First FOTW Spirit Animal Poll

News Blog

State to Reinstate Work Requirement for Food Stamps

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Julien Baker

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris Davis

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation