Dee Dee Bridgewater wants Annenberg audiences to discover the real Billie Holiday

February 9, 2010

Bridgewater to bring back ‘Lady Day'

Written by Kimberly C. Roberts

Philadelphia Tribune Entertainment Writer

Tuesday, 09 February 2010

Grammy and Tony Award-winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater returns to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to perform selections from her new album, “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.”

Bridgewater’s highly personal interpretations of Billie Holiday’s enduring standards, including “Lady Sings the Blues,” “All of Me,” “Good Morning Heartache,” “Lover Man,” “Mother’s Son-in-Law,” “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit” will be accompanied by Edsel Gomez (piano), Kenny Davis (bass), Greg Hutchinson (drums) and Craig Handy (reeds).

Bridgewater, whose portrayal of Holiday in the Stephen Stahl theatrical production, “Lady Day,” based on the singer’s autobiography, “Lady Sings the Blues,” earned her a Laurence Olivier Award nomination, acknowledges a lifelong fascination with the iconic jazz diva.

“I think it was her life that fascinated me when I was very young and I was first introduced to her at 19,” Bridgewater said. “This album was actually part of a bigger project that I was doing. I was trying to option the play that I had done in Europe and Paris and London. That was last January and I was trying to get it up on Broadway, but that’s when the economic crisis hit.

“At any rate, I just was looking for a vehicle to come off of the road, and be stationary instead of touring so much. And I thought since I hadn’t done the play in the States, this would be the perfect vehicle.”

Bridgewater also welcomed the opportunity to work on “Eleanora Fagan” with some of her favorite instrumentalists, including Edsel Gomez (piano), Christian McBride (bass), Lewis Nash (drums) and James Carter (saxophone).

“There was just a lot of love, and I think you can even feel it on the CD,” she said. “My hope with this particular CD was to pique the interest of young people so that they would want to discover Billie, and it’s been working.”

As she takes the stage at Annenberg Center, Bridgewater’s goal is to help her audience discover the real Billie Holiday.

“I would like people to know that I feel that Billie was a full human being, that there was not just the tragic part of her life,” said Bridgewater. “I’m told that she was a very brave woman living in the time period that she did, when we were still going through very severe racial issues. That she was militant and stood up for what she believed in, and would not compromise her music. Just the very fact that she insisted on doing ‘Strange Fruit’ when she had been told that she couldn’t perform it.”

As the Billie Holiday story unfolds, jazz lovers will also become acquainted with the multi-talented Dee Dee Bridgewater, who said in conclusion, “I love to entertain, I love to make people happy. Without being facetious, I am a fantastic entertainer. I think that people who don’t necessarily know about jazz will go away loving the music, wanting to explore the music and certainly explore Billie Holiday.”