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San Miguel Playhouse Brings the Legacy of Bessie Smith


By Fredric Dannen

“I don’t think anybody in the world will be able to get as much hurt in one song,” said singer Alberta Hunter in appreciation of her contemporary, Bessie Smith. Ranked as perhaps the greatest blues singer of all time, Smith was also a star of the vaudeville circuit and one of the most successful African-American performers of the roaring twenties. Her recording of “Downhearted Blues” sold two million copies; her discography also included standards such as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “After You’ve Gone.” Smith’s powerful contralto voice was a major influence on other singers, including Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Janis Joplin.

Smith’s musical legacy will be celebrated in a two-night-only production at the San Miguel Playhouse, at 7pm on Friday, March 30, and Saturday, March 31. Lady Zen, the internationally known singer and lyric fusion poet, who makes her home in San Miguel, headlines the show, called Lady Zen Sings Bessie Smith. She will be accompanied by Susan Varcoe on keyboard; Juan José on drums; Antonio Lozoya on bass; and Armando Servin on trumpet. Lady Zen, a formidable singer well equipped for the Bessie Smith songbook, is a mezzo-soprano awarded a Fulbright scholarship in opera performance, who has directed her considerable vocal talents to jazz and blues.

Bessie Smith died of injuries sustained in a 1937 road accident on Highway 61 in Mississippi. Jazz writer and producer John Hammond claimed that she would have survived had she not been denied admission to a whites-only hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a story that formed the basis of Edward Albee’s play The Death of Bessie Smith. But that account has been discredited by Smith’s definitive biographer, Chris Albertson. It is undisputed, however, that Smith, for all her fame, was not shielded from the virulent racism of the Deep South that persisted during her lifetime. In July 1927, Ku Klux Klansmen tried to disrupt one of her tent performances in Concord, NC. Smith, a commanding presence on and off the stage, chased them away.

Advance tickets for the two concerts are 300 pesos (350 at the door starting one hour before performance), and are on sale at Solutions, Recreo 11. Tickets can also be purchased online via Seats for this event are unassigned, so early arrival is recommended. The San Miguel Playhouse is located at Avenida Independencia 82.


“The Legacy of Bessie Smith”

Lady Zen

Featuring Susan Varcoe, Juan José, Antonio Lozoya, and Armando Servin

Fri and Sat, Mar 30 and 31, 7pm

San Miguel Playhouse

Avenida Independencia 82

Advance tickets: 300 pesos

350 at the door starting one hour before performance

Solutions Recreo 11




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