A Bessie Smith ‘dream project’ makes its D.C. debut

Miche Braden as the title character in “The Devil’s Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith,” being staged by Mosaic Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. (Chris Banks) Miche Braden’s performance as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” in 1991 was so impressive that her director, Joe Brancato, in Upstate New York, asked the actress whether she had a dream project that she wanted to do. She immediately said: “Bessie Smith.” It was a savvy choice, for it was Smith’s mid-1920s success as the first African American recording star that made the subsequent careers of Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan possible. It took a while for Braden, Brancato and playwright Angelo Parra to fashion the show that they eventually called “The Devil’s Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith.” But it opened at Brancato’s Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point, N.Y., in 2000 and has been traveling to regional theaters ever since. It makes its D.C. debut with the Mosaic Theater Company this weekend with Braden and Brancato still aboard. “Bessie’s songs had always fascinated me,” Braden (whose first name is pronounced Mickey) recalls over the phone from her home in […]

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