Billie Holiday at the Downbeat in New York City

Lady Day’s stories always in jazz

Continually throws you off kilter, and it takes a while to figure out what’s going on

Lady Day continually throws you off kilter, and it takes a while to figure out what’s going on, experiencing life through Billie Holiday’s soliloquies, as she suffers a breakdown on stage, reliving a reality that fluctuates between desperation, prison, racism, harrowing love, addictions, and jazz… always jazz.

The play, by Lanie Robertson, is set at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in Philadelphia. It resurrects one of Billie Holiday’s last performances at a haunt in the city where she was born, a city she had a love-hate relationship with – four months later, on July 17, 1959, she died at age 44.

Abuse was a thread that ran through much of Billie Holiday’s music. Three strands that make up the patterns of trauma and despair can be identified: She was abused as a woman; as a female artist; and as a black woman, sometimes performing in the deep south.

The play is painfully relevant because, although Billie Holiday’s life ended 56 years ago, the abuses she lived persist and have mutated into new forms. We’re doing better, perhaps, but not so much better that we can put down our protest banners and say we’re a fully evolved civilization.

One need only say the words First Nation, then refine the focus to First Nation Woman, to find an empathetic chord to Billie Holiday’s songs up north, here. Or the word ‘poverty,’ applied to any race, location or sexual orientation.

The abuses Billie Holiday faced can be traced primarily to racism, and pointedly racism in the deep south – where the confederate flag has only recently been officially lowered for the last time at the South Carolina Statehouse.

Her song, Southern Trees Bear Strange Fruit is a haunting and grim portrayal of racism in America. It’s opening lines are: “Southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root…”

Holiday’s grandmother was a black slave; her grandfather the slave ‘owner.’

Kudos to: Glaucia Derochers, who played Billie Holiday; Director Michelle Tremblay, for bringing a complex musical together; the musicians Ron Joiner (drums), Nick Mintenko (bass), and Ron Karel Roessingh (piano and in the role of Jimmy Powers).

Applause as well to the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society for making this their entre into the dramatic arts – a gutsy choice. And to Producer Pat Selman, who has realized ‘a dream project of mine for over 20 years.’

There is one aspect of the production, which will hopefully strengthen through Lady Day’s six performances. The acting wasn’t as confident as the music.

Derochers did get into her role more convincingly as the play progressed, and overpowered this shortcoming with her evocative renditions of Billie Holiday’s songs, but if she can get into the acting groove as confidently as she does the singing, this play will nudge up from great to fabulous.

The musical genre is not usually my favourite. But Lady Day thoroughly captivated. I left thinking of Billie Holiday’s life, and how hard it is to be different in this world, unless the differences that make you special are money, power and a narrow mind.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill will be performed six times from the Nov. 27 opening until Dec. 5. Details and tickets available at cvcas.com/ladyday. Arrive early if you want to get a table close to the stage.

 

Just Posted

Volunteers take down after another successful Ladysmith Festival of Lights

Good crowd comes out for a sunny Sunday volunteer session of taking down decorations

Blood moon over Ladysmith

Gerry Beltgens shook off cold fingers this weekend to capture this image… Continue reading

Reflections of Ladysmith: The Art of Michael Dean

Work, place and people are inseparable for Vancouver Island painter

Ladysmith business recognized for supporting diversity in the workplace

Ladysmith Home Hardware, Ladysmith Pharmasave, LRCA, and Maya Norte saluted

Editorial: Looking back at windstorm helps us prepare for next time

BC Hydro says it was the most destructive storm in its history

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, expenses

Speaker Darryl Plecas’ report details ‘flagrant overspending’

Parole granted for drunk driver who killed B.C. RCMP officer

Kenneth Jacob Fenton will be able to attend alcohol abuse treatment, nearly three years after crash that killed Const. Sarah Beckett

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

B.C.’s largest public-sector union wants inquiry into money laundering, drugs

Union officials say Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby have not ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry

Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke

Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School said he was trying to defuse the situation

Vancouver Island senior dies after medical emergency and rollover crash

Incident happened Saturday in Nanaimo on Poplar Street

MARS seeing influx of sick, injured eagles from north part of Vancouver Island

Factors for increase in eagle cases can be anything from lead poisoning to vehicle strikes

Suspect allegedly armed with handgun robs Island gas station

Incident occurred Sunday night in Nanaimo

Most Read