Queen Latifah will play the role of blues singer Bessie Smith in HBO‘s new musical biography. Smith was one of the founding mothers of the blues in the 1920s. The name Bessie Smith may not sound familiar to today’s artists, even Queen Latifah had never heard of the blues singer before. Latifah revealed this information at a press junket for the film, “I had no idea who Bessie Smith was, to be honest with you… I had to become familiar with who she was in particular.”
The Bessie Smith film idea was first presented to Latifah when she was 22 years old. The twenty-two year time-lapse placed the forty-four year old actress in a better position. The wait allowed Latifah to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for blues music and Bessie Smith. “The blues, the blues, I’ve gained such a great amount of respect for the blues…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,” Latifah explained.
Bessie Smith was also known as The Empress of the Blues; she was the most famous female blues singer of the 1920s. Smith is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era. In 1923, Smith signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues” sold 800,000 copies, and Smith became one of the highest-paid black performers of the 1920s. Smith’s powerful voice placed her at the top of the blues circuit, and she became a very successful artist who toured extensively.
Bessie Smith’s fame started to decline in the late 1930s, but her true talent never faded away. Queen Latifah recounted her amazement when she first heard a Bessie Smith recording, “I was just blown away. 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.” Bessie will premiere on HBO this spring, the actual date has not been announced. The film will also feature Mo’Nique, Charles S. Dutton, and Mike Epps.