In November of 2009, Pamela Rose launched a full-length multimedia show entitled Wild Women of Song: Great Gal Composers of the Jazz Era, based on a CD of the same name, which had been released the previous month. Over the last two years, she has been with a team of five exceptional musicians to develop a new multimedia project focusing on women and the blues. The resulting theatrical presentation will be given its premiere next month here in San Francisco, when it will run for about a month at the Custom Made Theatre. The full title of the show is Blues is a Woman: from Ma Rainey to Bonnie Raitt.
It would be fair to say that the blues genre predates the emergence of what would come to be called jazz. The roots of the blues can be found in slavery, prisoners sentenced to hard labor, the physical demands of farming, and evangelical approaches to religion, with no one of these sources dominating the other two. However, the emergence of women as blues singers can probably be related to the parallel emergence of a demand for recordings. Thus, the classification of Ma Rainey as the “Mother of the Blues” received increased attention as a result of the popularity of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which takes place over the course of one of her recording sessions.
As a performer, Rainey toured with the Stokes troupe. Ironically, Bessie Smith would later audition to join that group. She got the job but was hired as a dancer, since Rainey was already doing the singing. This is just the tip of an iceberg whose substance is so great that decades of history would elapse before most of today’s listeners would encounter a familiar name, such as Nina Simone or Aretha Franklin.
For her new program Rose will serve as both vocalist and narrator. She will perform with five Bay Area musicians experienced with the blues genre. All of them are women: Tammy Hall on piano, Ruth Davies on bass, Kristen Storm on saxophone, Daria Johnson on drums, and Pat Wilder on guitar. The entire production will be staged by Creative Director Jayne Wenger:
Kristen Strom, Tammy Hall, and Pat Wilder (back row) and Daria Johnson, Pamela Rose, and Ruth Davies (front row), photograph by Jennifer Paschal courtesy of Custom Made Theatre
The Custom Made Theatre is located on the second floor of 533 Sutter Street, just off of Union Square. Shows will take place Thursday through Sunday, beginning on August 3 and concluding on August 27. The first three shows will be previews, followed by the press opening on Sunday, August 6. That opening night performance will begin at 7 p.m. All other Sunday performances will be at 3 p.m.; and all performances on Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays will be at 8 p.m. Tickets for all performances may be ordered online from a single Web page on the Custom Made Theatre Web site. Ticket prices range from $38 to $50. The Custom Made Theatre may be reached by telephone at 415-798-2682.