Jackie Kay: My Libidinous, Raunchy, Fearless Blueswoman
‘Bessie Smith showed me the air and taught me how to fill it.’ And Janis Joplin was certainly not the only person who fell in love with the Tennessee blues singer’s unforgettable voice. As a young Black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie not only an inspiring singer but a complex, sensuous, extravagantly generous woman with whom she could identify.
Now of course, Kay has gone on to become one of the best-respected British poets of her generation, herself an inspiration to others. She joins us to discuss her extraordinary book, Bessie Smith. It is as much a quest for emotional truth as for biographical fact, mixing poetry and prose, historical record and fiction. At times Kay enjoys imagining what the singer might have thought, or speculates about the contents of the trunk in which she kept her most beloved possessions.
It all adds up to a towering monument to one of the 20th century’s most influential singers. Kay explains her unusual approach, while acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist Suzanne Bonnar sings some of Bessie Smith’s best-loved songs.