Black Diva Power

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Black Diva Power

The performances in Black Diva Power are a force to be reckoned with. British-born singer-songwriter Ruth Rogers-Wright leads both productions which showcase the music of ground-breaking artists Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
“The theme of both those plays is empowerment through your art, no matter where you came from in life,” Rogers-Wright says passionately, “and their legacy lives on today. How many artists from today will still be remembered in 50 or 60 years time?”
To bring the music of Billie Holiday back to life, Rogers-Wright is joined on stage by a three piece band. “We have a fantastic musical director Mark Fitzgibbon, who is a legendary pianist and musician.” He is accompanied by Martin Holoubek on bass and drummer Scott Bates. “I’m so lucky to perform alongside such wonderful musicians. Previously we’ve done the show with just a solo pianist and me tapping away to keep in time!” she laughs. “They really help me a lot.”
Although Rogers-Wright first came to prominence as a singer-songwriter in the mid ’80s as part of the new British Jazz movement, she is also an accomplished poet. “I incorporate some of my own poetry in this part of the show, and I do an original song about her [Holiday] as well.”
To prepare for the role she delved into Holiday’s life and discovered an incredibly strong and resilient woman. “Look at Billie Holiday’s story – she was raped as a young girl and she ended up getting sent to a reform school because if it! The guy who did this to her got three months in jail – how ridiculous! Most people only think of her as a tragic figure who ended up as a drug addict. Unfortunately when we see these clips of her, they’re late in her life when she was very thin and strung out on heroin. But in this show we’re actually looking at her through the music she wrote and the fact that she was a sassy woman who did her own thing. She made her own path and she carved her own sound. Nobody helped her do that – she created her own image.”
Written by the acclaimed playwright Neil Cole, the story of Nina Simone focuses on her music between 1958 and 1965, and her friendship with Lorraine Hansberry, a playwright and black activist.
“She was an award-winning writer and she was the first black woman to have a play produced on Broadway [A Raisin In The Sun]. She encouraged Nina to use her music to further the black power movement. Hansberry is played by Zuleika Khan -she is a really amazing actress,” she says.
Rogers-Wright emulates Simone’s attitude and sound by drawing on memories of watching her musical icon perform live five times before her death in 2003. “At one show we were sitting only six feet away from her, and she was marvellous! If she didn’t like the people sitting in the front row, she’d sort them out by telling them to leave – ‘Get out!’ she’d yell,” Rogers-Wright laughs. “I have never seen anybody perform like that. It’s like she would transform as she felt the music. She had a very risky style of performing but she was so very generous on stage too, and I think that’s why Nina Simone had such magical powers to touch lives – and I hope we bring a little bit of that to the show.
“I try to show that any poison that’s in our lives can be turned into a great victory,” Rogers-Wright continues. “I see these ladies like the phoenix, rising from the ashes.”
Three musicians, two legends, one night – don’t miss it.
Written by Natalie Rogers
When & Where: The Capital, Bendigo – October 24 & GPAC, Geelong – November 2