Queen Latifah has revealed had no idea who Bessie Smith was when she was first approached to play her.
In a testament to how long this project has been on the cards, Latifah explained to the Television Critics Association that she was just 22-years-old and in the middle of the burgeoning rap career when she was first offered the role, despite having no knowledge of the blues songstress.
“I had no idea who Bessie Smith was, to be honest with you,” the now 44-year-old singer admitted, explaining that she “had to become familiar” with one of the most legendary blues singers of all time.
After finding out about Smith, her legacy, and her music, Latifah explained she was “blown away.”
“I could hear her voice in so many people who came after her… If there was a Bessie Smith alive today, she’d blow everyone else out of the water. I could never match her true ability.”
Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Aretha Franklin are just a few of the leading ladies that credit Smith as an influence. However, Latifah is on that list too. Although she is still best known for her work in Hip Hop and in Hollywood, Latifah still credits this early research of Smith with inspiring her love of both blues and soul music, which inspired her 2004 album ‘The Dana Owens Album’ and 2007’s ‘Trav’lin’ Light.’
“The blues. The blues. I’ve gained such a great amount of respect for the blues,” Latifah said. “The blues are just as stunning to me now as when this first came to me. If anything, I feel like I have a little more of the story of what Bessie had to say.”
The upcoming biopic will focus on Smith overcoming her ‘tempestuous personal circumstances to become one of the most acclaimed performing and recording artists of the ’20s and ’30s.” The film is based on Chris Albertson’s biography of her; which was adapted for screen by the film’s director, Dee Rees.
A release date still hasn’t been made public; however, it is expected to premiere on HBO before the end of 2015.
Catch a small teaser for “Bessie” in HBO’s yearender below: