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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Feinstein Providence Campus to premiere musical, Waiting for Bessie Smith, Jan. 31

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 874-2116


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- January 27, 2004 -- To initiate the celebration of Black History Month, the University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence Campus will premiere a new musical by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, "Waiting for Bessie Smith," that features well-known local talent.

Featuring the music of the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith woven into a rich depression-era story, the production will be held on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. at the campus, 80 Washington St. Tickets are $5 for the general public and free for URI Providence Campus students. For ticket information call 277-5000.

The original musical is a fictional account of what happens one night at a club in Providence several months after the 1933 death of Sissieretta Jones, a prominent black singer from Providence who enjoyed international fame from 1915–1928.

In Providence, the despair of the depression is compounded by the loss of this shining star in the black community. A tavern owner, Chatty, who had moved to Providence from Tennessee, decides to take action to help the community deal with its grief. He invites his childhood friend, Bessie Smith, to come help sing the Providence blues away. On the night she is scheduled to arrive, it begins to snow. A crowd gathers at the tavern to wait for the Empress of the Blues. After a time, the audience becomes restless and they call upon a local minister's daughter, Ella Lou, to sing while they wait. But Ella has a surprise for them. She joins with Mississippi Willie, a guitar player and Piano Eddie, who were hired to play for Bessie and creates an escape through music from the reality of the times.

The role of Ella Lou is play by renowned jazz singer Kim Trusty who has appeared nationally performing music ranging from jazz to blues to soul. Trusty is joined by Providence blues guitarist Paul Williams as Mississippi Willie. Pawtucket's Paul Bisch who has appeared with several well-known groups including the Drifters plays Piano Eddie. Chatty, the nightclub owner, is played by actor Raidge, who is best known for his work at the Providence Black Repertory which includes roles in Fences, The Island, A Raisin in the Sun, A Kwanzaa Song and Langston Hughes.

Pitts-Wiley, who wrote and directs the show, has worked in theatre for more than thirty years as an actor, playwright, composer and director. He is the co-founder and artistic director of Mixed Magic Theatre & Cultural Events, a new performing arts company whose primary focus is to bring diverse images and stories to the stage.

Waiting for Bessie Smith includes several traditional spirituals and 12 Bessie Smith classic blues songs with a running time 100 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.

The URI Feinstein Providence Campus Student Services Office and the artist-in-residence program are sponsoring the show, with additional support from the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education Student Government Board.

For Further Information: Steven Pennell, 277-5206