“Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour” has come to an end, but not without its memorable, musical moments. Presented by HBO in anticipation of its Bessie biopic and in honor of the film’s namesake, blues singer Bessie Smith, the three-day event celebrated both her legacy and Los Angeles’ local talent.
The series launched Tuesday (May 12) in the city’s Arts District with an Editors’ Blues Brunch at Millwick. Select journalists were treated to a three-course meal that included seared wild-caught sea bass and strawberry shortcake. Actors Tika Sumpter and Tory Kittles, who star in the film as Smith’s lover and brother, were also in attendance. Keeping true to the honored era, guests were gifted with a portable Crosley Cruiser Turntable and vintage Smith record.
On Wednesday afternoon, music industry veterans Bryan-Michael Cox and Stacey Barthe hosted a student-only workshop on producing and songwriting, and later that evening the tour continued with a musical showcase of the city’s native talent. With singer Luke James as MC, Inglewood’s Tiffany Gouché performed the jazzy title track of her Fantasy EP and the soulfully sexy “Slow It Down.” All-girl trio KING, who are co-managed by Prince, took the stage next in all-black ensembles. With Amber Strother and Anita Bias on vocals and Strother’s twin sister Paris on keys, the ladies sang breezy, clap-heavy tunes including “Supernatural” and “Mister Chameleon.”
Oakland’s own Kehlani closed the night. With her widely-applauded You Should Be Here mixtape having recently reached No. 1 on iTunes’ R&B chart, she performed the Ginuwine-sampled “Get Away,” hit every count of choreography with sass and a smirk on “How That Taste,” and finished with favorite “FWU,” her response to Chris Brown’s “Loyal.” Fellow songstress Zendaya watched from the sidelines.
Thursday night’s finale saw Solange as surprise headliner. Following sets from DJ D-Nice and Stacy Barthe, Solo and her six-piece band served up songs from her True EP, including “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Locked in Closets,” before debuting a new tune called “Rise” dedicated to Ferguson and Baltimore. She capped off the 40-minute performance with “Losing You” as the crowd including Tyrese and V Bozeman danced into the night.
Bessie premieres Saturday, May 16, at 8 p.m. on HBO.