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The past few years have seen a rise and celebration of queer and LGBT artists ranging from mainstream pop stars from Sam Smith to more underground stars like Le1f. However, what many may not know is this is nothing new. Queer men and women have existed in all genres of music throughout the ages. One of the most well-known queer music pioneers was Bessie Smith, and on 16 May, 2015, her story will finally be told in a biopic on HBO titled Bessie.
Bessie Smith was a blues singer who was one of the most popular blues singers in the 1920s and 1930s. She was born in 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and while she only lived 43 years, she accomplished a lot during this time. Bessie started her career in 1912 as a part of a travelling show with Pa and Ma Rainey, who she developed a friendship with.
She stayed with the show for three years before she left and joined the Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.), the vaudeville circuit for African Americans during that time period. By the time she recorded her first record in 1923, she had built a sizable following as one of the circuit’s most popular performers.
Before her death in 1937, Smith recorded over 200 songs with various musicians. The blues singer was outspoken about her queerness with some of her songs, such as ‘The Boy in the Boat’ and ‘It’s Dirty But Good’, containing explicit references to sexual relations between women.
So, it would only be fitting then that this groundbreaking artist would be the subject of her own new biopic. Queen Latifah heads up a star-studded cast as Bessie Smith. Michael Kenneth Williams portrays as her musician husband, Jack Gee; and Mo’Nique will portray Ma Rainey, Smith’s friend and oft-rumored lover. Dee Rees, the writer and director of Pariah, is the film’s director; and if her previous work is any indication of what we can expect, then viewers and fans can be confident that Bessie won’t disappoint.
Bessie will premiere on 16 May, 2015, on HBO. In the meantime, you can view the trailers below.