It’s Women’s History Month, and Billboard is embracing the month by celebrating the women that helped shape the music industry and those who are currently molding it — such as Broadway star Adrienne Walker.
You might recognize Walker as Nala from the ever-captivating Lion King Broadway musical, but her most recent role sees her starring as Hattie in the Roundabout Theatre’s revival of the Cole Porter classic Kiss Me, Kate, opening March 14.
The Georgia native tells Billboard why taking on the role holds such an important meaning to her. “It is rumored that the character Hattie was written with regard to the actress Hattie McDaniel,” she says. “If this is true, Hattie McDaniel was a pioneer for black actresses like me.”
“She was the first African American actor (male or female) to win an Academy award,” Walker adds. “However, her career was controversial in the black community because she played the role of a maid or cook in nearly 40 films. In response to the black liberals criticism of her taking on such roles she is quoted saying, ‘I’d rather play a maid in the movies than be one in real life.’”
Walker says Hattie is Lili Vanessi’s (Kelli O’Hara) right-hand woman in the musical comedy about romance. “I hope that Kell and I are able to portray their friendship in honesty and truth,” Walker says. “She is sassy, straight-forward, and loving all at once.”
Billboard asked Walker to compile a playlist with her favorite women-empowering songs. The talented singer-actress chose a dynamic combination of cool R&B tracks from Janelle Monáe and Brandy, modern-day girl-bangers from Beyoncé and Whitney Houston and timeless classics from Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder.
Check out the playlist below to see her curated selection, and why she chose the 10 tracks for her WHM playlist.
1. “Electric Lady” – Janelle Monáe (feat. Solange)
I have been a fan of Janelle Monáe since she was selling out concerts on the AUC campus in Atlanta, GA. She has been a long time advocate for human rights and female empowerment, and Electric Lady celebrates us in a way that makes me want to dance.
2. “Brave” – Sara Bareilles
Life is tough. Who doesn’t know that? But inspirational songs like this make it a little easier to speak your mind, share your voice, and be present with your feelings and the feelings of others. And also, sing Sara! Sing!
3. “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder sure does know how to make some “feel good” music. Isn’t that a notion? To not worry about a thing? Even if that isn’t possible, Stevie definitely makes you feel like there are no worries for 4min 45secs and I’ll take that respite any day of the week.
4. “Best Friend” – Brandy
This song always makes me think of my sister, Jacqueline. Everyone deserves someone in their life that understands them, and has their back without question. She’s my girl!
5. “Run the World (Girls)” – Beyoncé
No explanation needed.
6. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Whitney Houston
What is a dope playlist if it doesn’t include the legendary Whitney Houston? My husband and I share a deep love for this powerhouse diva.
7. “Feeling Good” – Nina Simone
Nina Simone was a risk taker, a revolutionary artist, and an advocate for the people. It is my pleasure to celebrate her with one of my favorite tunes.
8. “Too Darn Hot” – Ella Fitzgerald (Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook)
I am in awe by the voice that is Ella Fitzgerald. There is so much to learn from her vocally. It is also fitting that this Cole Porter tune is in our production of Kiss Me, Kate and performed stunningly so by James T. Lane.
9. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – Ms. Lauryn Hill
Over twenty years later and this song is still so relevant, beginning with the first line “My world it moves so fast today, the past it seems so far away and life squeezes so tight that I can hardly breathe.” Living in a city like New York, I’ve gotta say, I can relate. But I love the message of this song and I hope that it inspires you. “But deep in my heart, the answer it was in me, and I made up my mind to define my own destiny.”
10. “Smile” – Janelle Monae (Charlie Chaplin cover)
I hope that this rendition of the beautiful song by stage performer and comedian Charlie Chaplin inspires you like it inspires me.