The Jazz Era Comes to Life during Bessie’s Blues, featuring Queen Bey

QueenBey_webExperience the stories and songs of Bessie Smith, the most popular female singer of the ‘20s, Sat., March 2 at 6:30pm in Marvin Auditorium at the library. Bessie’s Blues is the finale of the NEA’s The Big Read, a community reading initiative.

Kansas City Ambassador of Jazz Queen Bey recounts the story of Bessie Smith, the female Louis Armstrong of the era. Travel back to the Jazz Era when the star and her trio of musicians take the stage. Kevin Willmott, professor of film at the University of Kansas and award-winning film writer and director, directs the free performance. Arrive early to be sure to get a good seat. This concert is cosponsored by Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.

“Bessie was one of the first liberated women. People should know more about this breakthrough artist, her music, her personal life, and the people she affected,” said Willmott, whose work includes the films Ninth Street, The Confederate States of America and Bunker Hill. Willmott recently adapted and directed a stage version of The Watsons Go To Birmingham at Kansas City’s Coterie Theater.

Queen Bey’s wide repertoire of jazz and blues standards, and innovative and often unknown songs, are drawn from her first-hand experiences working with the legends of jazz and blues. Queen has performed with B.B. King, The Platters and the late jazz pianist Earl Garner. In 1990, she received the Kansas Governor’s Arts Award. She was an honoree at the 1991 induction of Elder Statesman of Kansas City Jazz, Inc., and is officially recognized as Kansas City’s Ambassador of Jazz.

Set during the Jazz Era, The Great Gatsby, was selected for the library’s community read this year. Celebrating The Big Read encompasses many formats beyond the book; it includes music, movies and art. Bessie’s Blues is the last of 29 special events planned as part of The Big Read reading initiative. The library was one of 78 organizations nationwide to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and will have hundreds of copies of the book available to read.

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is a 21st-century landmark library and  includes the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery, the Millennium Café, Chandler Booktique, meeting rooms and free computer/Internet access. Hours are Mon. through Fri. 9am to 9pm, Sat. 9am to 6pm and Sun. 12pm to 9pm.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 25 years. For more information, please visit        

Lisa is a former employee and shared the library story in many of her posts.