Farah Jasmine Griffin

  • Dee Rees, Bessie, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 112 minutes. Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah). Photo: Frank Masi/HBO.

    Dee Rees’s Bessie

    BESSIE SMITH'S LIFE and career were short. Born in 1894, she began singing on the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee, around the age of ten. By the time she died, at forty-three, in 1937, she had toured the US many times, written and recorded an enviable number of classic songs, and established herself as a major interpreter of the blues, earning her the sobriquet “Empress” of the genre. She had even appeared in a film, Dudley Murphy’s two-reel musical short St. Louis Blues (1929), which took the title of the W. C. Handy composition she had made into a hit record four years earlier.

    Smith cut her

  • Odetta

    SOME ARTISTS CREATE visions of the future. Others illustrate how to get there by showing us where we have been. In doing so, they lay out what we are up against and remind us of our strength, fortitude, and resilience. Their work accompanies us on the journey, joins us in struggle, points out the way, and carries us when necessary. Odetta, who passed away this past December, at age seventy-seven, was of this latter group. She was singular, awe inspiring, and real.

    With a voice that was recognizable from the first note, Odetta, a woman known by one name, was a historian and an activist, a culture