Lady Zen Sings Bessie Smith at San Miguel Playhouse

Lady Zen

By Fredric Dannen

When you hear a gospel or blues singer tear the roof off a performance space, it is a safe bet that the singer received their formative musical training in church. This is true of the woman who calls herself Lady Zen, one of the most talented musicians ever to reside in San Miguel, the city she has called home for the past few years. No other singer has a biography quite like hers. Born Alzenira Quezada in Brazil, on May 10, 1971, she was plucked from an orphanage by Christian missionaries and raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas as Sheri Joy Glick. By the time she was learning to speak, Glick was the star vocal attraction at the Church of the Nazarene, singing at tent revivals, church concerts, and county fairs all over the South, winning over 60 vocal competitions in the process. By age 17, she was studying opera on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Arkansas. Her teacher, the noted mezzo-soprano Elaine Cencel, foresaw a Metropolitan Opera career for young Sheri Glick.

Then something happened. Sheri discovered jazz.

“Elaine scoffed at me,” Lady Zen recalls today. “She said, ‘Why do you want to sing jazz? That’s not even music.’ But, to me, it was more music than what I was doing. I wanted the freedom of jazz, to be able to express the vulnerability and pain that I was feeling so deeply.”

At that time, her Christian missionary parents had thrown her out of the house, unable to deal with their adopted daughter’s homosexuality, and she was fending for herself. Those same parents had urged their mixed-race daughter to try to pass herself off as white. In the Deep South, that was hardly possible, and Alzenira Quezada (she legally restored her birth name in 2012 and derived the moniker “Lady Zen” from Alzenira) experienced her share of racial epithets.

One of the jazz singers who has had the greatest influence on Lady Zen is Bessie Smith, dubbed “the Empress of the Blues.” Smith was a bisexual African-American singer with a powerful contralto voice of operatic proportions, and a Southerner who dealt with issues of race throughout her career. Alberta Hunter, one of Smith’s contemporaries, said of her, “I don’t think anybody in the world will be able to get as much hurt in one song.”

Bessie 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, in a show entitled “Lady Zen Sings Bessie Smith.” Lady Zen will be accompanied by Susan Varcoe on keyboard, Juan José on drums, Antonio Lozoya on bass, and Armando Servin on trumpet. Advance tickets for the two concerts are 300 pesos (or 350 at the door starting one hour before performance) and are on sale at Solutions, Recreo 11. Tickets can also be purchased online via sanmiguelplayhouse.com. Seats for this event are unassigned, so early arrival is recommended. The San Miguel Playhouse is located at Avenida Independencia 82.

 

Music

“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

sanmiguelplayhouse.com

 

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