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Fine Arts

Performance celebrates three iconic women in jazz

Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone were each legendary and groundbreaking artists whose influence has endured through successive generations.

They also each made incredible music.

And it is both their songs and societal impact that will be celebrated when vocalists Charenée Wade, Tahira Clayton and Vanisha Gould present “Bessie, Billie and Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz” – a tribute to the legacy of each artist featuring performances of their classic songs – at 7:30 p.m. Friday (March 18) at Saint John’s University’s Stephen B. Humphrey Theater.

The performance is included in this year’s Fine Arts Programming Series. General admission tickets are $28. Tickets are $21 for CSB+SJU faculty and staff and $8 for current CSB+SJU students. Tickets for Seniors 60+ are $25 while tickets for youth/student ID are $15.

They can be purchased online or by calling 320-363-5777.

Smith, whose life was cut short when she died in a car crash at age 43 in 1937, was nicknamed “The Empress of the Blues.” Holiday, nicknamed “Lady Day,” was a wildly successful jazz vocalist whose life was also cut short at age 44 in 1959.

Simone, whose influential work spanned genres including blues, jazz, folk, soul, gospel, R&B and pop, died at age 70 in 2003.

“We don’t want to lose the legacies of these incredible women,” said Tanya Gertz, the executive director of Fine Arts Programming at CSB and SJU. “It’s important that the stories of their transformative lives and careers continue to be told.

“But they also made amazing music. So this is not just a history class, it’s a performance of some really incredible and iconic songs. This is music that has continued to remain powerful across the decades since it was first recorded.

“They each had a style and influence that is still felt today. All three of these women were incredible singers.”

Wade, a regular performer with Jazz and Lincoln Center, Clayton, the co-leader of Women in Jazz Organization (WIJO), and Gould are dynamic voices in their own right.

The show, which is produced by the Grammy Award-winning Eli Wolf (who has worked with artists such as Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson) features an all-female backing band with arrangements by pianist and musical director Carmen Staff.

“To feature an all-female band is something that we don’t often see,” Gertz said. “So often when you see female singers, they are backed up by male musicians. So that makes this show fairly unique.”

Prior to the performance, Clayton will lead a discussion entitled “Iconic Legacies of Women in Jazz” at 4 p.m. Friday (March 18) at Krewe Restaurant in St. Joseph, an establishment featuring New Orleans-style cuisine.

Tickets for that event are free and can also be obtained online.

“Krewe is a wonderful partner, and a fellow champion for jazz in our region,” Gertz said. “It’s the perfect location for this conversation with the artists celebrating these iconic jazz vocalists.”