• Press Release

Bessie, Billie and Nina at VAF


Virginia Arts Festival

Words and Images Courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival


Virginia Arts Festival presents BESSIE, BILLIE, & NINA: PIONEERING WOMEN IN JAZZ February 20, 2022 at the Attucks Theatre

Virginia Arts Festival presents Bessie, Billie, & Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz on February 20, 2022 at the Historic Attucks Theatre. In the history of jazz, three women stand out for their unique style, extraordinary talent and influence on not just the musical form but on the very heart of American life. From the Jim Crow era-South through the turbulent 1960s, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone won fans and changed minds.

Tickets are on sale now at vafest.org and by calling 757-282-2822.

On stage and beyond, they used their exceptional talents to combat racial prejudice, sexism, and poverty. Bessie Smith powerfully and playfully claimed women’s autonomy and sexuality; Billie Holiday took on the racism pervasive in the American South and beyond; and Nina Simone gave voice to the Civil Rights movement with stirring protest anthems. As women, African Americans and artists, these legendary performers defied social norms and embraced self-empowerment through their art.  Produced by Grammy-winning Eli Wolf (Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson), and with arrangements by pianist and musical director Carmen Staff (Dee Dee Bridgewater), Bessie, Billie, & Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz features three dynamic vocalists, each a rising star in her own right: Charenée Wade and Vanisha Gould (both regular performers with Jazz at Lincoln Center) and Tahira Clayton (co-leader, WIJO, Women in Jazz Organization). Backed by an all-female band, Wade, Gould, and Clayton celebrate the enduring legacies of these iconic women and artists with performances of their classic songs, including Bessie Smith’s “Downhearted Blues,” Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” and Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.” 

As the Virginia Arts Festival looks ahead to 2022 and the upcoming 25th Anniversary season, Bessie, Billie, & Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz will remind audiences of the Festival's 25-year reputation as the region’s most trusted presenter of great performances.

About the Virginia Arts Festival Since 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival has transformed the cultural scene in southeastern Virginia, presenting great performers from around the world to local audiences and making this historic, recreation-rich region a cultural destination for visitors from across the United States and around the world. The Festival has presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres, and regularly commissions new works of music, dance, and theater from some of today’s most influential composers, choreographers and playwrights. The Festival’s arts education programs reach tens of thousands of area schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in-school performances, artists’ residencies, master classes and demonstrations.

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