On the eve of the broadcast premiere of Bessie, HBO closed its “Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour” at Millwick in Los Angeles with a surprise show by Solange on Friday, May 14.
A envelope-pusher in her own right, Solange says Smith was an early influence. “For as long as I can remember, she has always been represented to me as someone who redefined the voice of being a black woman, a black musician and feminist,” says Solange.
HBO conceived the “Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour” to celebrate the biopic and Smith’s legacy as the “Empress of the Blues.” Borrowing its moniker from Atlanta’s 81 Theatre, where Smith performed many times, the tour came to L.A. on May 12 following its April 28 launch in New York.
Mirroring its East Coast predecessor, the L.A. stopover encompassed three days of private, invite-only events between May 12 and 14. In the two days leading up to Solange’s surprise show, these events included Grammy-winning producer Bryan-Michael Cox and songwriter Stacy Barthe hosting a student workshop and up-and-coming artists Kehlani, KING and Tiffany Gouché performing at an evening showcase. Barthe also opened for Solange on the tour’s final evening. Janelle Monae was the surprise performer of New York’s three-day takeover.
As for following her own musical muse, newlywed Solange says she’s written 24 songs for her next studio album on her Sony imprint Saint Records. Declining to divulge an expected release date (“We’re now at the end zone; the weeding out is happening”) or other details, the singer/songwriter promises the project will be a “sonically incredible journey.”
For the first time, Solange explains, she wrote a lot of the songs to piano and structured them on her own before finding the producers to bring them to light.
“I’ve been sitting at the piano, figuring out chords and building songs from my story with my voice being the epicenter,” she continues. “Before this, I’d start singing and build songs from there. It’s taking longer this way but it’s a really exciting process.”