Thursday, September 23, 2021

‘Bessie’ Director on Film’s Music: ‘It’s Not Going To Be the Songs That You Know’

Actress/Executive Producer Queen Latifah (L) and director/writer Dee Rees speak onstage during the ‘Bessie’ panel at the HBO portion of the 2015 Winter Television Critics Association press tour at the Langham Hotel on January 8, 2015 in Pasadena, California

*Dee Rees, the director of HBO’s upcoming biopic on Bessie Smith says don’t expect to hear a lot of her popular hits in the film.

Queen Latifah plays the blues icon from her days as a struggling young singer to becoming a national superstar on such signature tunes as “Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer)” and “T’ain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do.”

But Rees says the songs pulled from Smith’s discography were chosen based on their lyrics, not their popularity.

“It’s not going to be the songs that you know,” Rees warned the TCA in January. “The lyrics actually deliver on her emotional narrative.

“It’s the songs that actually tell us more about who she was, not just, like, pick the ‘Bottle of Beer.’”

Below, Rees says she also wanted to focus on the songs that Smith, herself, wrote.

“Bessie,” co-starring Mo’Nique as Ma Rainey, premieres Saturday, May 16 at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Last week, HBO teased some of the film’s “musical moments” in a series of promo videos.

Watch below:



  1. Everyone from Aretha to Jennifer Holiday has been associated with this Bessie Smith biopic. But after HBO’s success with bio pic musical on Josephine Baker to Dorothy Dandridge, casting Dana Owens aka Queen Latifah as Queen of the Blues seems like a stroke of brilliance. (Only regrets, Diana Ross nor HBO could come to terms on her portrayal of La Baker….though Lynn Whitfield brilliantly captured La Baker in HBO’s “The Josephine Baker Story”)!
    This should give Latifah an Emmy, as it did for Lynn Whitfield and Halle Berry! Without seeing less than 5 minutes, “Bessie” looks like a sure fire May sweeps, award winner. Though I am not a big fan of La Smith’s music, it will be interesting to see if it becomes “Lady Sings the Blues” or instead, have the less of a musical impact like unfortunately La Baker or Diva Dandridge….both changed little on the music scene, but, more as thespians. It also may be Monique’s most enduring role since her Oscar win!

  2. Frankly, I thought Latifah would’ve done Pearl Bailey instead. To me, her demeanor and statute reminds me of Bailey than the no-nonsense Bessie. Interesting to see how she will pull off Smith. The film looks good though and Bessie’s story is long overdue. This woman was big influence on Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Not to mention, countless other black female songbirds.


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