Queen Latifah's Bessie Smith Film to Premiere May 16 on HBO

Frank Masi/HBO
Queen Latifah in Bessie.

HBO's film on blues singer Bessie Smith starring Queen Latifah will premiere on May 16.

Latifah stars in Bessie as the Empress of the Blues, one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s. Latifah recorded many of Smith's better-known songs for the film, and a soundtrack release is expected.

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At the winter Television Critics Association press conferences, Latifah said she was glad the project took 22 years to get made. "When the project came my way, I don't think I had the life journey that went along with it. I got to live more of the blues," she said.

Directed by Dee Rees, the film focuses on Smith escaping her turbulent personal life to become one of the first major blues stars. She died after a car accident in 1937 at the age of 43.

Mo'Nique stars as blues legend Ma Rainey and Bryan Greenberg portrays John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive who signed Smith. The film also stars Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Tory Kittles, Mike Epps, Oliver Platt and Charles S. Dutton. Evyen Klean is the music supervisor.