HBO Celebrates ‘Bessie’ with ’81 Theatre Tour’

With the premiere of the Bessie biopic less than a week away, HBO is not only looking to build anticipation in its honoring of the legendary Blues singer Bessie Smith, but also aiming to inspire fellow singers and musicians along the way.

The film follows Smith who, over the 1920s and ’30s, grew from a chorus line entertainer to solo act signed by Columbia Records. By 1924, she had become the highest-paid black entertainer in the country. Led by Queen Latifah in the titular role, the ensemble cast includes Michael Kenneth Williams, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, and Mo’Nique (as mentor and fellow
Blues singer Ma Rainey).

In anticipation of the premiere on May 16, HBO has launched “Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour,” named after the Atlanta venue in which Smith developed her act and frequently performed. Touching down in both New York and Los Angeles, the invite-only series includes a number of events that highlights both Smith’s legacy and local talent.

The three-day takeover includes a workshop with Grammy-winning producer Bryan-Michael Cox and top songwriter Stacy Barthe that will offer local students and musicians a Q&A with the duo, as well as a chance to hone their skills and gain inside knowledge via a creative process that mimics the one once used by Smith. In addition, industry insiders will select
native talent for a series of performances for the tour’s music showcase.

The Los Angeles series will include an Editors’ Blues Brunch and a Music Showcase with special performances by Kehlani, KING, and Tiffany Gouche, with sounds by DJ D-Nice. The program will conclude with a private dinner for 50 handpicked influencers followed by a surprise superstar performance (Janelle Monáe wowed attendees at the New York tour last month).

“Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour” comes to Los Angeles May 12-14
HBO’s Bessie premieres Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m.