Ladies sing the Blues in Petaluma
Petaluma will get a big, brassy, bluesy treat for Mother’s Day this year.
An original, multimedia theatrical concert called “Blues is a Woman” will be dropping into Cinnabar Theater for one day only on Sunday, May 14. The show shines a bright spotlight on the mostly-hidden history of the brave and talented women who have shaped the very-American musical art-form called “The Blues.”
“Blues is a Woman” showcases a number of Blues-singing legends, including Ma Rainey, Sophie Tucker, Memphis Minnie, Libby Holman, Big Mama Thornton, and Peggy Lee. Audiences will be taken from Bessie Smith, who sold over 20 million records in the 1920s, to the multi-talented blues guitar player, and popular contemporary singer, Bonnie Raitt.
“Blues is a Woman” was created by singer/songwriter/recording artist/playwright/historian Pamela Rose.
“We call it a theatrical concert,” says Rose, “not quite a blues concert, and not quite a history lesson, but a carefully scripted travel through time, including historical film footage about the impact of the role of women in the blues.
“It is an extraordinary story,” she continues. “These first blues women were probably the least powerful women - black women in the South. But they gave us these amazing songs.”
Rose previously created another musical theater piece called “Wild Women of Song,” about the female songwriters of Tin Pan Alley. That show was a success, and toured nationally for seven years.
“Blues is a Woman” has been a two-year project for me, researching, writing songs and finding the historical films to put you in time and places, like 1902 in some dusty bar in Missouri,” says Rose. “We are so proud that we can bring the show to Cinnabar. Cinnabar is a theater that has done great things to support new works.”
The Cinnabar event, Rose points out, will double as a record-release party for “Blues is a Woman: the Original Cast recording.” Produced and engineered by multiple Grammy-award winner Leslie Ann Jones, the new CD shows off the powerful wealth of talent within the “Blues is a Woman” ensemble.
“One of our ensemble, Tammy Hall, has done a lot at Cinnabar,” notes Rose. “Tammy was the musical director and pianist for the show “Mahalia.” Tammy sings in our show, and I think her fans will be surprised to hear what a good singer she is.”
Other cast members are Pat Wilder, a guitarist for 30 years in many bands around the Bay Area, plus Ruth Davies, an Oakland resident whose beautiful standup bass has been heard on international tours of many headlining artists. Then there’s Bay Area native saxophonist Kristen Strom, who has also performed with touring artists, and headlined at the 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival with her critically-lauded group “Crossing Borders.” Daria ‘Shani’ Johnson is a San Francisco-based drummer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, whose own band, London Street, has opened for national headliners.
Rose developed “Blues is a Woman” with the help of Creative Director Jayne Wenger, a director and dramaturg whose exclusive focus is on original material. Wenger is currently the Director of Creative Process for the Bay Area Playwrights Foundation. “Blues is a Woman” has had two previous runs in the Bay Area, and according to Rose, has enjoyed emotional, powerful audience receptions each time.
“We had people in tears hugging us and thanking us for telling the story,” she says. “It’s such a timely piece. What a time to celebrate black culture and strong black women. These songs became the songs of the anti-war moment. As you can imagine, that voice - which re-emerged in the ’60s through artists such as Nina Simone - has particular weight, as these songs of resistance and power resonate today more than ever.
“These are songs of rapture and liberation,” Rose continues. “They are songs of our lives, and we feel that we are not alone feeling these things. Our ensemble is a cast of black and white women (joining) in song together. These people, together, putting together this piece - it’s a remarkable thing.
Adds Rose, “We delight in sharing the wealth of talent on the stage.”