By Will Broaddus/Gloucester Times
(BEVERLY, MA) There’ll be a hot time in the old town next Tuesday night [Dec 4], when Paula Cole leads a Bessie Smith tribute at The Cabot [286 Cabot St., Beverly, Massachusetts, 8pm].
Cole, a Grammy Award-winning Rockport native and current Beverly resident, has selected a lineup of top-notch talent to sing one song each by Smith, known as the “Empress of the Blues,” in a fundraiser for the vaudeville-era theater.
The evening will be hosted by Phillip Martin, a senior reporter for WGBH News, and Renee Graham, associate editor and columnist for The Boston Globe.
“I wanted to honor an artist who would have been alive at The Cabot’s opening, and realized Bessie Smith would have been 22 years old,” Cole said.
Smith was the Beyonce — or, for an earlier generation, the Aretha Franklin — of her time and was hitting her stride when The Cabot was built in 1920.
Born in Tennessee in 1894, Smith was signed to Columbia Records in 1923 and sold 800,000 copies of her first recording, “Down Hearted Blues.”
The string of hits that followed include several classics in the blues repertoire, from “St. Louis Blues” and “T’aint Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do” to “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”
“We all bow to this woman who was alive and making music back in the Prohibition era,” Cole said.
Cole, who has been a professor at Berklee College of Music for six years, teaches Smith’s music to her students, telling them to focus on the lyrics.