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Performance Thu Feb 13 2014

Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie: Addressing Colorism and Classism

QUEENIE PIE_Keith Ian Polakoff.jpg Queenie Pie ensemble; photo: Keith Ian Polakoff.

The Chicago Opera Theater, in conjunction with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, presents the city's premiere of Queenie Pie, the only opera composed by jazz legend Duke Ellington. Directed by COT General Director Andreas Mitisek, Queenie Pie is inspired by the life of hair care and beauty entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, America's first black female self-made millionaire. Here, Karen Marie Richardson, who stars in the title role, speaks on the importance of the story and its confrontation with the issue of colorism.

General thoughts on Duke Ellington's vision for Queenie Pie:

Going into the project and going through the process, I felt as though Duke Ellington really wants us to tackle some issues on colorism and focus on the insecurities of people. He really wants us to address light skin versus dark skin.

Duke Ellington's impact:

I have to say after knowing a lot of Duke Ellington's pieces, after being taught and learning and seeing his pieces, it's incredible to know that he is that malleable. I feel like he's everywhere.

The story's relevance in today's culture, particularly where the controversy surrounding the state of the black hair care industry is concerned:

Queenie Pie, to a certain extent, addresses this. After the first year she's self-made and she demonstrates her strength in her financial awareness but what she is forgetting about is that you can't settle on your achievements. We get to a point where we build and create a brand, but don't build after that.

On ageism as another key social issue addressed in the performance:

In addition to color, we deal with ageism a little bit. We deal with the insecurities that women tend to have when we get older. Queenie Pie is noticeably little older than Café O'lay; and when she rolls in there and she's younger and she's the "new thing," Queenie Pie shows you her insecurities right then and there.

On the relevance of Queenie Pie during Black History Month:

It not only reminds us that we still have to work hard to get where we need to go, but it tells us to look at each other and realize that no matter what our skin tone is or hair grade we have, we're exactly the same. The struggles are exactly the same.

What message the audience should take away:

No matter how many things you do in your life or no matter how much you accomplish, there is never a need to rest on your achievements.


Queenie Pie will be performed at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, beginning this Saturday, Feb. 15; subsequent shows are Feb. 21, Feb. 23, and Mar. 5. All show times are at 7:30pm; tickets are $35-$125. For more information, call 312-704-8414.

UPDATE: Due to an electrical fire that affected a portion of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on February 19, performances of Queenie Pie have been rescheduled; new dates are as follows: Wednesday, Mar. 19 at 7:30pm, Thursday, Mar. 20 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, Mar. 23 at 3pm. The Chicago Opera Theater Box Office will be contacting patrons who have already purchased tickets with rescheduling options. For more information, call 312-704-8414.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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