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    Blues Is a Woman Hits All the Right Notes in Compelling Theatrical Concert Herstory

    Ma Rainey (1882 or 1886–1939), considered by many to be the “Mother of the Blues,” once advised Bessie Smith: “Let your soul do the singin.’” She also famously said, “You don’t sing to feel better. You sing cause that’s a way of understanding life.” It is little wonder then that audiences have connected so deeply to their and other blues singers’ performances, leaving them hungry for more. We felt that way after recently seeing A Night with Janis Joplin, which ended its long American Conservatory Theater run earlier this Summer of Love month. Joplin was a blues fanatic, and the show was filled with music made famous by Rainey, Smith, Odetta and others.

    We were therefore thrilled to learn about a new show, Blues Is a Woman, which celebrates what its creators call the “herstory of women in the blues” from Ma Rainey to Bonnie Raitt and beyond. The show is a memorable raw and real experience, full of woman power and soul that cover the largely unwritten role of women’s huge influence on blues music over the decades. Many lesbian women were pivotal in the genre, including notable lesbian blues musicians such as Rainey and Smith (who sold over 20 million records in the 1920s), and also Sophie Tucker, Big Mama Thornton and Alberta Hunter, who was beautifully portrayed in Bay Area lesbian playwright Jewelle Gomez’s Leaving the Blues earlier this year.

    Other significant women musicians who forged their place in blues history are featured in Blues Is a Woman. They include the late great Memphis Minnie, a remarkable blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter who recorded around 200 songs over the course of her impressive career. Also featured is one of our all-time faves, Peggy Lee (check out her thought-provoking song, “Is That All There Is?” and multimillion-selling single hits blues phenom Bonnie Raitt.

    Blues Is a Woman was skillfully written by San Francisco musician Pamela Rose, with creative direction by Jayne Wenger. This co-production with Custom Made Theatre is the official theatrical debut of Rose’s compelling new piece, a hybrid of theater and concert. The show will run from Thursdays through Sundays throughout the month of August beginning August 3 and finishing on August 27.  

    With a powerful ensemble of musician/actors (Pamela Rose, Tammy Hall, Ruth Davies, Shaunna Hall, Daria Johnson and Kristen Strom), the crackerjack all-woman band perform musical treasures punctuated by storytelling and rare historical film. The work shines a light on the lesbian and Black experience, and how it informed American music. It does so while following the fierce, passionate women who popularized the blues. You will find yourself transported back to the early roots of America’s most enduring art form, traveling through the decades in a vibrant explosion of concert and history. 

    The performers have legendary careers already in their own right. Hall, for example, was the founding guitarist and songwriter of the hit group 4 Non Blondes. She was the first female guitarist for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, with whom she spent 10 years touring the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, Fiji, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Africa, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Japan and Indonesia. To say that these women are worldly wise and talented is an understatement!

    Blues Is a Woman creator, writer and producer Rose is yet another globe trotter who has performed at clubs, jazz and blues festivals in multiple countries. NPR has featured her collection “You Could Have It All,” with its Hammond b3 organ-driven grooves.

    Rose recently remarked that the new show has “storytelling and singing shared by all the amazing women on stage … it is much more a theatrical piece, and a very moving and timely work about that specific fierce, independent voice of women in the blues, from the beginning to now. As you can imagine, that voice, which re-emerged in the 60’s through artists such as Nina Simone, has particular weight as these songs of resistance and power resonate today more than ever.” 

    Blues Is a Woman is a powerful musical theater piece with an incredible number of songs—25!—performed during the course of the show. All of the show’s previews in Northern California (Kuumbwa Jazz Center, SF JAZZ, Freight & Salvage, Cinnabar Theater) sold out and had audience members leaping to their feet mid-show with standing ovations.

    The ebullient, charismatic performers sharing the Blues Is a Woman stage are fired up and excited to share the powerful themes of the show: the power of feminist women in the past and present, the dynamism of their talent and the power of music to heal during these dark political times. Blues Is a Woman is a dynamic, engaging showpiece that is sure to enrich and delight the heart, soul and mind.

    Blues Is a Woman

    Coming in August to the Custom Made Theatre Co.

    533 Sutter Street (Union Square), San Francisco

    Telephone: 415-798-2682

    Shows are Thursday through Sundays, Aug 3–27

    Tickets range from $38 to $50

    Blues Is a Woman Website:

    Didn’t It Rain:

    Ball and Chain: