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The “Empress of Blues” would be so proud.

Last night, HBO and singer/songwriter Janelle Monae brought 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith’s legacy to life on the first stop of their #Bessie81Tour.

The “Yoga” singer performed a medley of hits for an elite group of industry insiders at the elegant Stephan Weiss Studios in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

In an effort to celebrate the life of Bessie Smith, an under-appreciated blues singer who influenced and inspired soulful greats like Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, HBO put together an elaborate tour that captures the essence of the late singer’s liberating movement.

HBO’s Bessie 81 Theatre Tour kicked off in New York City earlier this week. Vowing to honor Bessie’s life, HBO created an all-access environment for aspiring singer/songwriters to find their voice, just as Bessie Smith found her voice many years ago.

From songwriting workshops with famed producer Bryan-Michael Cox and singer Stacy Barthe, to music showcases featuring Deva Mahal, Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Adeline Michele and Phony Ppl, the Bessie 81 Theatre Tour exemplifies the importance of capturing the significance of unadulterated artistry.

After sitting in production for 22 years, HBO offered critics and journalists an exclusive screening of the Dee Rees-directed biopic Bessie at New York City’s revered Museum of Modern Art. The New York City premiere brought out A-list celebrities like Mary J. Blige, Jamie Chung, and the movie’s star-studded cast, including Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Greenberg, and Tory Kittles.

Bessie the movie stars Queen Latifah, Michael K. Williams, Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Charles S. Dutton, Tory Kittles, and Khandi Alexander. Catch the premiere of Bessie on HBO Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. EST.

Scroll through photos of HBO’s #Bessie81Tour in the gallery below. 

HBO’s “Bessie” 81 Theatre Tour In New York City
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PHOTO CREDIT: Team Epiphany/ HBO