“The Empress of the Blues”: a living story! performance portrays Bessie Smith’s musical career | News, Sports, Jobs
SHEPHERDSTOWN – Classic blues songs could be heard rolling out of the Morgan’s Grove Park pavilion on September 16, throughout History Alive! portrayed of Bessie Smith by Beckley-based actress and singer Doris Fields.
Managed by the West Virginia Humanities Council, the free History Alive! The event was once again, as in previous years, hosted by the Friends of Shepherdstown Library, as well as the Shepherdstown Community Club.
“This year, Living History! features a portrait of Bessie Smith, a popular blues singer from the 1920s and 1930s. We are delighted to be able to offer this to the community! said Patricia DiDonato, member of the FOSL.
Living history! The program features academics from across the state, who portray historical figures ranging from Pearl Buck to Nellie Bly. These living history shows offer a passport through time for student and adult audiences throughout the Mountain State.
According to the West Virginia Humanities Council website, History Alive! program features a roster of 12 historical figures available for first-person performances each year. Previously, FOSL hosted History Alive! performances in Shepherdstown with performances by Charles Schulz, Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no performances were held in Shepherdstown last year, and this year’s performance has changed from typical locations, to accommodate social distancing concerns. Usually, history is alive! representations are located inside the O’Hurley General Store.
Selecting Fields’ representation for this year’s performance was an easy choice, DiDonato said, like Smith, “The empress of the blues”, was both the most popular blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s and the highest paid black performer of the time.
Fields herself brought the house down with her performance, alternating between portraying her character through song and monologue. Some of the songs she performed from Smith’s repertoire, including “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues”, “Sometimes I feel like a child without a mother” and “No one knows you when you are depressed.” End the performance by singing “Life wasted,” Fields herself received a standing ovation for her incredible performance.
“People have said all kinds of things about Bessie Smith. But people don’t know, to sing the blues, you have to experience the blues ”, said Champs. “I sing about people in jail and homes washed away by floods, about worthless men and women.
“People like to call the blues ‘the devil’s music’. I think it’s just because it speaks to them about themselves ”, said Champs. “The blues tell the truth!