March 17, 1999 |
A block apart on Cecil B. Moore Avenue lie two sites that developers have wanted to turn into centers of entertainment. Slated to receive city and federal subsidies, both are part of a vision to return the avenue to its former glory as a center for commerce, jazz and blues. The larger project, at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore, is a glitzy, $58 million complex called Jump Street USA. Its developers hope to break ground in the fall. The smaller project, meanwhile, at 15th Street and Cecil B. Moore, is mired in controversy and has triggered a federal investigation.
October 7, 1988 |
In one of life's interesting but imponderable little coincidences, pianist Harold McKinney witnessed his first and only live performance by Billie Holiday a scant five months before her death in 1959 - about the same time frame specified by Lanie Robertson for his play "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill," in which McKinney has been congenially typecast as Holiday's accompanist. McKinney saw her in Atlanta, where Louis Smith's group, of which he was a member, was the opening act for the great jazz singer (the play, currently at the People's Light and Theatre Co. in Malvern, places her in a funky South Philadelphia cabaret)
February 25, 1991 |
Joe Bush, a retired postal worker who carried on a lifelong love affair with Billie Holiday and her music, died Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 59 and lived in South Philadelphia, where he was raised. Bush met Holiday at the house of a neighbor who was a friend of the famed singer when he was just 6 or 8 years old, said Hilda Guy, a first cousin of Bush. "Billie Holiday leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, and he never forgot her. "He was in love with Billie Holiday.
December 22, 1995 |
Nate Davenport loves the big-band sound. "Always have," he said. "I loved it as a kid. I even watched Lawrence Welk on TV. Honest, I really did. I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. " Kathy Roberts cut her musical teeth on R&B. "I've often been compared to Phyllis Hyman," she said. "I toured with Billy Paul for more than two years, doing duets with him and singing background. I also did some background work for Stevie Wonder when I was on the West Coast. " It was Davenport's idea to produce a tribute to Billie Holiday, and Roberts was his choice to handle the Holiday role.
April 3, 1993 |
The Billie Holiday in the highly entertaining show Billie Holiday: The Lady Behind the Gardenia at Freedom Theatre is not the same Billie Holiday who performed at the Wilma Theater until last month. Yes, I know, Billie Holiday has been dead 34 years, so she wasn't really on either stage. But while watching the performances of Millicent Sparks in Freedom's Gardenia and Miche Braden, who starred in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill at the Wilma, it is difficult not to think of them as incarnations of the famous jazz singer.
August 10, 1991 |
Stephen Stahl is getting good mileage out of Lady Day, his one-woman show about the jazz singer Billie Holiday. Stahl's first version of the piece was created a decade ago for a theater company he ran in Philadelphia for a couple of seasons. A rewritten version became a small-theater hit in London and Paris a few years later. That show played the Theater of Living Arts on South Street for several weeks in 1987, then went on to run for several months in San Francisco. Lady Day is now being performed, with Stahl as director, at the Cabaret Theater at Odette's in New Hope in a revival demonstrating that the success of the piece, like that of any one-person show, depends on who performs it. Four years ago at the TLA, Holiday was portrayed by Ann Duquesnay, whose singing and acting evoked Holiday's presence and style strongly enough to make the show a satisfying entertainment.
February 1, 2003 |
Emerson's Bar and Grill has long since passed into history, but over the last two decades the modest (seedy might be a better word) jazz venue at 15th and Bainbridge Streets surely has been visited by many more people than it ever hosted when it was in business. Not Emerson's exactly, but many, many stage designers' conception of it as the set for the musical play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. Since Philadelphia native Lanie Robertson wrote it in 1984, the piece, which evokes an appearance by the legendary singer Billie Holiday at Emerson's in 1959, has become a staple of American regional theater.
December 4, 1992 |
So compelling is Miche Braden's performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, it's tempting to say that the singer has returned to the former South Philadelphia nightspot instead of the Wilma Theater. So I'll succumb to temptation and just say it. One who has been dead 33 years doesn't, of course, come back to entertain the living, but Braden's evocation of Holiday is so intensely realized that the audience truly believes she is Holiday, and in the theater, believing makes it so. Holiday, as playwright Lanie Robertson sets it out, is not returning under the best of circumstances.
October 22, 1987 |
Billie Holiday's career was a well-publicized battle with alcohol, drugs and the law, but at one point in Lady Day, the show that last night opened the renovated Theater of Living Arts, Holiday dismisses all that by saying: "All I wanted to do was sing. " And that is exactly what the theatergoer quickly discovers he wants Ann Duquesnay, who portrays Holiday, to do in Lady Day. Duquesnay captures Holiday's inimitable voice and style well enough to evoke the presence of the singer, and she is such a talented performer in her own right that Lady Day, in the second act when Duquesnay sings and sings and sings, turns into an exciting, engrossing entertainment.
August 19, 1995 |
Diana Ross may be a diva, but watching her perform to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Waterfront Entertainment Centre in Camden Wednesday night, one can clearly see what Ross is not: not as campy as Bette Midler, not as dramatic as Barbra Streisand, not as hokey as Liza Minnelli, not as transcendent as Michael Jackson. So, what does that leave for Ross? Sincerity? Love? Both of which she seems to impart to her audience. No, Ross is the delicate mistress of clarity in song - singing each number with cheerful elan, but as fragile as spun glass.