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Performance Fri Jan 25 2013

Porchlight Theatre's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

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No conversation about jazz could ever be deemed complete without mentioning Billie Holiday, aka "Lady Day"; as one of America's most celebrated vocalists, renowned for such iconic songs like "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit," she is widely regarded as one of the most unique, iconic and influential jazz legends in history.

To pay tribute to Holiday, the Porchlight Music Theatre presents Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill; part of the company's Black History Month celebration and starring Chicago's Alexis J. Rogers, the performance will feature late 1950s Philadelphia, in the months preceding the singer's death. Here, Rogers talks about the legendary Billie Holiday, her unique vocal style and her contribution to and significance in black history.

You're a staple of Chicago's theater scene; what do you like most about performing here?

Chicago is a theater town; people love going to the theater here. And although I didn't think it would be as beneficial for me to be in Chicago as opposed to New York, I've learned differently. I moved back home in 2004 and I've been able to work here ever since and I'm extra grateful.

You're starring as the legendary Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill--what do you think it was about her that made her such an influence in jazz?

Billie Holiday was innovative--she did not move to the same beat as most people. She sang with a great deal of emotion and had a style all her own with her technique and the way she would bend and manipulate notes. She was so stylized and sang in a way that nobody was ever able to repeat it.

When you took on this role, how did you approach it? Were you already a fan of hers?

I can't say that I was a fan already but I'm becoming more and more of a fan of hers as I read, research, and watch different documentaries on her. I really only had the experiences of singing "God Bless the Child" at a cabaret or at an audition here or there, so my approach was to drown myself in her so that I could become one with her. Our personalities, in some ways, are very alike, in that she was very candid--adversity was never anything that was going to stop her--and I'd like to think I'm the same way. I'm a little tough, but tough in the right way.

It has often been said that no one articulated pain through song better than Billie Holiday--would you agree with that statement?

She could never sing anything that she did not feel, so whatever the piece was, it had to be something that related to her life. She had to feel the music.

This performance is part of Porchlight's Black History Month celebration; what does Billie Holiday's contribution to black history mean to you?

When you think about the contribution Billie Holiday made, you think about the fact that she was one of the greatest jazz vocalists there ever was. She's an icon. And celebrating her posthumously is our way of saying, "We love you."

Let's talk about "Strange Fruit," Billie Holiday's quintessential song about racism, specifically, the lynching of black people. Tell us what the song means to you, as we just celebrated the King Holiday and as we head into Black History Month.

It is a song that helps me never to forget the struggle--the blood, the sweat, and the tears that were shed so that I could have the opportunity to sing it.

This story marks one of Holiday's last performances before her death; what do you want the audience to take away from this story?

I really want people to get to know Billie Holiday; I feel like I'm taking a wild ride with her and I want to take the audience on a ride with me. Hopefully, they'll take her highs and lows and walk away somewhere in the middle, satisfied with thinking they know Billie Holiday just a little bit better.

~*~

See Porchlight Music Theatre's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont beginning February 2 through March 10. Show times vary; tickets are $30-$39 and are available at the box office, online, or by phone, 773-327-5252.

Alexis J. Rogers photo courtesy of Kelsey Jorissen.

 
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