Who Is Bessie Smith—And Why You Shouldn’t Miss Her HBO Biopic

May 12, 2015

If you’re not familiar with the Empress of Blues, Bessie Smith, we highly suggest you stop reading right now and go listen to her scorching version of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.”

Next, you can fully prep to watch HBO’s epic biopic of the Empress. Bessie is portrayed to her full emotional gusto by Academy Award nominee, Queen Latifah. The cast is rounded out by a host of heavy hitters—Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave), Khandi Alexander (Scandal), and Academy Award winner, Mo’Nique, just to name a few.

With the kind of elegant flapper costumes Gatsby’s girls would be jealous of, Bessie stormed the 1920s scene, but not without a host of hard-earned blues to inspire her tunes. Track her trek to greatness, from Tennessee street busker to the highest-paid African American entertainer of her era.

Bessie premieres May 16 at 8/7c on HBO (Ch. 501).

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