Written and directed by Dee Rees, “Bessie” follows the life and times of legendary “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith (played by Queen Latifah).”Bessie” also stars Mo’Nique, Khandi Alexander, Charles S. Dutton, Mike Epps and Tika Sumpter.
The biopic will premiere on HBO on Saturday, May 16, 2015. For more info, visit BessietheMovie.com.
Bessie Smith moved to Philadelphia in 1923. At the time of her death in an auto accident on September 26, 1937, the “Empress of the Blues” lived in an apartment in South Philly.
Bessie’s funeral was held on October 4, 1937.
The funeral was moved from Upshur’s Funeral Home to O.V. Catto Elks Lodge to accommodate the 30,000 mourners who filed pass her coffin.
Bessie’s casket was taken on a slow tour of her South Philly neighborhood, briefly stopping at the Standard Theater where she regularly performed.
A stop on the “Chitlin Circuit,” the Standard Theater was owned by African American entrepreneur John T. Gibson.
In 1914, Gibson bought the Standard Theatre on the 1100 block of South Street. His timing couldn’t have been better, for in the following years, tens of thousands of southern blacks would pour into the city of Philadelphia as part of the Great Migration unleashed by the First World War.
Young men and women, with good jobs and money in their pockets, flocked to Gibson’s Standard Theatre to see a fare of “High Class and Meritorious Vaudeville,” stage shows, and popular music. The Standard became a regular stop for Black performers on their national tours: comedians Bylow and Ashes, singers Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, Erma C. Miller’s Brown Skinned Models, popularly known as the “Black Rockettes,” and jazz bands led by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.