“The blues is not about people knowing you, it’s about you knowing the people.”
Before there was a Billie or an Etta, and long before the contemporary R&B diva Beyonce began snatching wigs, there was a bluesy jazz singer who reigned supreme – Bessie Smith.
With the help of acclaimed Pariah director Dee Rees, HBO is bringing the life and times of 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith to the small screen with Golden Globe-winning actress Queen Latifah.
Known as the “Empress Of Blues,” Bessie was popular for her innovative blues and jazz style in the early 1920s. Capitalizing off her popularity and success, Bessie became one of the highest paid black musicians of her time and one of the first to ink a major record label deal.
In an era when the narrative behind innovative creators was obscure and mysterious, the Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois-written film explores the complicated, yet fascinating and seemingly under-appreciated life of an influencer many grew to know and love as Atlanta’s 81 Theatre starlet.
From the tumultuous relationship with her husband Jack Gee (Michael K. Williams), to being mentored by Ma “Mother of Blues” Rainey (Mo’Nique), and her outlook on intimacy being beyond heterosexuality, Bessie Smith’s legacy is finally receiving the recognition it deserved three scores and many years ago.
Queen Latifah will be supported by a star-studded cast, which includes Michael K. Williams, Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Charles S. Dutton, Tory Kittles, and Khandi Alexander.
Bessie is set to air on HBO Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. EST. Check out our exclusive Bessie commentary starring Queen Latifah in the video player down under.
1. Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American woman to win for her role as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind."
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2. Sidney Poitier was the first African-American male actor to take the statue home.
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3. Louis Gossett Jr. was the first African-American actor to win Best Supporting Actor.
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4. Russell Williams took home the award for Best Sound for "Glory."
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5. Denzel Washington took home his gold for his role in "Training Day."
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6. Irene Cara was the first African American to win for a non-acting role when she won for Best Original Song.
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7. Lionel Richie won Best Original Song for "Say You, Say Me."
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8. Whoopi Goldberg won for her role as a spirit medium in "Ghost."
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9. Herbie Hancock was the first African-American to win for Best Original Score.
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10. Isaac Hayes was the first African-American to win for Best Original Song.
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11. TJ Martin was the first African-American to win Best Documentary Feature.
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12. Willie D. Burton was the first African-American to win for Best Sound.
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13. Prince took home the statue for Best Original Song Score for "Purple Rain."
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14. Cuba Gooding Jr. was a bit excited when he won Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Jerry Maguire."
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15. Who can forget Halle Berry's emotional speech when she won for her impeccable acting in "Monster's Ball."
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16. Morgan Freeman snagged himself a statute for Best Supporting Actor in "Million Dollar Baby."
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17. Jamie Foxx also tugged at heartstrings when he accepted his Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles in "Ray."
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18. Forest Whitaker took home the statue for Best Actor for his role in "The Last King of Scotland."
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19. Three 6 Mafia broke the record and caused quite the stir as the first rappers to win an Oscar.
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20. Jennifer Hudson also made waves when she, as a newcomer, took home the gold for Best Supporting Actress.
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21. Geoffrey Fletcher is the first African-American to win for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Precious."
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22. Mo'nique went on to win Best Supporting Actress in the film.
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23. Roger Ross Williams is the first African-American filmmaker to win Best Documentary Short Subject.
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24. Octavia Spencer warmed hearts when she won Best Supporting Actress for her role as no-nonsense Minny in "The Help."
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25. John Ridley won Best Adapted Screenplay for his take on "12 Years A Slave."
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26. Steve McQueen won Best Director for his work in "12 Years a Slave."
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27. Lupita Nyong'o was a fan favorite when she won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Patsey in "12 Years A Slave."
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Continue reading HBO’s “Bessie” Slated To Be The Year’s Most Riveting Biopic
Black Excellence: All The Black People Who Have Won Oscars
The 2017 Academy Awards are just days away and this year's nominees are blacker than ever!
Just a year after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy has made it a point to make this year as diverse as possible. This year's nominees include greats like multiple Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and breakout star of the year, Mahershala Ali.
In honor of Black Excellence, check out our gallery of black actors who have taken home the Oscar.