Queen Latifah Interview as Bessie Smith

Queen Latifah Interview as Bessie Smith

Queen Latifah Channels her Inner Sexuality as Iconic Blues Singer Bessie Smith

Queen Latifah never sings the blues.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith

The real Bessie Smith

“Life is a journey.  I’m taking it a step at a time,” said Queen Latifah.  “I’m not one of those people who ever accepted the words ‘can’t.’  I go hard,” says the New Jersey native.

She also goes for hard-to-get roles.

Latifah stars in Bessie, which debuted on HBO May 16th, playing the iconic but troubled blues legend, Bessie Smith.

Bessie Smith was a Tennessee native who began her career dancing and then singing.  Eventually, she was known for her extravagant shows and road tours that went from one end of the country to the other during the times of segregation.

At the height of her fame, Bessie Smith made an unheard of $2,000 a week from her music.  By the 1920s, she was a best selling blues artist with 160 recordings.  Smith died in a car crash at age 43.  It took rock legend and fan Janis Joplin to finally buy her a headstone many years after her death.

“I always loved Bessie Smith, so it was a given that I wanted to play her,” said Queen Latifah who stars in the HBO biopic with Michael Kenneth Williams, Tika Sumpter, Charles S. Dutton and Mo’Nique as fellow icon Ma Rainey.

What appealed the most to Latifah?  “Bessie Smith was fearless.  She was also a woman who knew absolutely no boundaries.  She pushed until she became the biggest star of her day while also integrating audiences with her music, which was pure magic.”

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith

“That was an amazing contribution,” Latifah said.

The HBO film also centers of Smith’s complicated real life where she pushed the boundaries of her times by having both male and a female partner.  For the role of Bessie Smith, Queen Latifah had to take on nudity and Bessie’s sexuality.

“This was a woman who desired love,” Latifah said.  “She was an emotional person who made some bad decisions along the way.  She was also a wild girl in many ways.  When it came to her life, she made her own rules and enjoyed living that way.  Bessie didn’t come with excuses or explanations,” she said.  “She really lived in the moment.”

So does Latifah, who couldn’t wait to sing the songs of the Blues heyday.

“It was very challenging,” she said.  “We’re talking about songs that are 90 years old.  I always loved the blues, but it’s a totally different style of singing.”

“The truth is I can’t sing exactly like Bessie Smith,” she said. “No one can sing like Bessie Smith!  She had one of the most powerful voices of all time, next to Janis Joplin or Mahalia Jackson who came after Bessie.”

“I mean, Bessie could blow,” Latifah said with a laugh.  “Inside her voice, you would hear all of these tones and this bravado of a true survivor.”

“She kicked ass through her music,” she said.

Queen Latifah said that she learned a few life lessons from the legend.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith

“Getting inside of her skin inspired me to be who I am.  It reminded me to be true to myself—and there are times that most of us forget that important lesson in life.  If I doubted myself in any way, I had to shake it off because of Bessie Smith.”

“I remembered from her that it’s about pushing on,” she said.  “That was the message I couldn’t wait to bring to the screen.”

It was also a good message for life now that her talk show has ended.  Latifah is ready for new challenges.

“I’ve had so many great moments in my life—and I will have them again,” she said.

She’s also filling her life these days with charitable pursuits.

In her spare time, Queen Latifah supports the Boys and Girls Club.

“It was my safe haven as a child,” she says.  “I tell the kids to work hard, take advantage of opportunities and try different things so you can figure out what you’re good at in life.  It’s good advice for anyone at any age.”

Who does Latifah go to when she needs a little pick me up?

For starters, she stares in the mirror.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith

“I don’t have a spirit of fear,” she says is her key.  “My spirit is power and love.  In other words, shake it off girl.  Decide that fear is just not you.  Decide that you’re a fighter and you’re a champion.  Know that you rock.”

How does she bust down a bad day?  “I yell and scream if I have to or I talk to my Mom.  She talks me off the ledge.”

The idea of aging doesn’t bother her a bit.
“I’m getting more comfortable with just being me,” she says.  “I’m adapting to the changes in my body because you have to realize that your body will change and you will move differently.”

“I know my knees aren’t as good as they were when I was 20 years old.  Such is life.  I try to keep the right attitude about it.”


by Cindy Pearlman
CINDY PEARLMAN CHATS WITH THE STARS ABOUT LOOKING, THINKING AND FEELING GREAT AFTER 50.  She is a nationally syndicated entertainment and beauty writer and co-author of The Black Book of Hollywood Beauty Secrets and The Black Book of Hollywood Diet Secrets.  Cindy’s STARDUST column appears in ACT TWO weekly.  Send your beauty questions to CindyLPearlman@yahoo.com.

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