Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tonight’s the Night for ‘Big Maybelle: Soul of The Blues’

THE scuttlebutt is that Lillias White blew the roof off the mother in previews of “Big Maybelle: Soul of The Blues.”

Pray tell, what is to happen this very evening when the Tony winner (“The Life”) steps up to the mic as Maybelle Smith at the musical's opening night gala? Are workmen at this very moment battening down the hatches at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre, the site of this potentially momentous occasion? The show runs through 2 Sept. and there is talk about a New York City debut in the winter.

“Big Maybelle” chronicles the hard life and good music of the R&B singer-pianist born in Jackson, Tennessee as Mabel Louise Smith. She enjoyed too-brief success – dying in a diabetic coma in 1972 – during the ’50s and ‘60s. MS was given the nickname Big Maybelle in part because she was stout, as they said back then.

Lillias White belts them out as Big Maybelle in “Big Maybelle: Soul of The Blues.” Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

Written and directed by Paul Levine, “Big Maybelle” features 31 blues songs from the last five decades, including “Candy” (1956), one of MS's biggest hits. The song received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. Also on the "Big Maybelle" playlist are songs from “The Okeh Sessions,” which the Blues Hall of Fame (2011) singer recorded between 1952 and 1955. The “Sessions” album won the 1983 W. C. Handy Award for Vintage or Reissue Album of the Year. (See video of MS singing “I Ain’t Mad at You" above; click on link to hear MS singing “Candy,

A bit of trivia: In 1955, MS recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On," two years before Jerry Lee Lewis' career-making cover of the song. MS’s version was produced by a fellow named Quincy Jones. Few people outside of QJ and say, Aretha Franklin, are aware that MS is known as “America’s Queen Mother of Soul.”

It seems that LW is doing the Queen Mother proud.

Visit to learn more about “BIG MAYBELLE: Soul of the Blues.”

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