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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events.

Bessie, Billie and Nina: Pioneering women in jazz are coming to the BCPA

Bessie, Billie, Nina; Tahira Clayton
Tahira Clayton plays Billie Holiday in "Bessie, Billie, & Nina - Pioneering Women in Jazz."

You know a person is a pioneer when you can be known by a single name.

Bessie. Billie. And Nina.

As dynamic vocalists, the women above were pioneers on several fronts, and their legacies are taking center stage in the show "Bessie, Billie, & Nina - Pioneering Women in Jazz," which will be coming to the Bloomington Center for Performing on Wednesday night.

As co-leader of the Women in Jazz Organization (WIJO) and a jazz singer in her own right, Tahira Clayton will be the role of Billie Holiday.

"Prepping for this tour has taken me all the back to the beginnings of vocal jazz with Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and even with Nina Simone," Clayton said.

Being backed by an all-female band, singers Charen’ee Wade, Vanisha Gould, and Clayton will present a “sampling” of the music of these legends, touching on the early moments in their careers while also hearing some of their social justice and social change songs.

“So we’re covering a pretty wide gambit of their careers," Clayton said. "I think, especially when you’re talking about Black women, we very quickly get pigeon-holed into doing one thing or we’re about one thing; Nina Simone was a civil rights singer, Billie Holiday sang 'Strange Fruit'; Bessie Smith sang the blues. But these women are full people, who have full life experiences, so I feel very grateful that the show is taking that lens.”

"Bessie, Billie, & Nina - Pioneering Women in Jazz" comes to the BCPA on Wednesday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. See more details and purchase tickets.

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