Queen Latifah is set to portray legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in the HBO biopic Bessie.
This news comes less than a month after an official announcement that Latifah’s daytime talk show The Queen Latifah Show would not be returning for a third season.
Latifah is also executive producing the film, which features actors such as Michael Kenneth Williams, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Khandi Alexander, Mo’Nique and Charles S. Dutton.
The film is based loosely on information from Chris Albertson’s biography of the singer and is directed by the award-winning director of Pariah, Dee Rees.
Nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, Smith was arguably the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s.
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 1892, Smith and her brother Andrew became a musical duo as children to make ends meet. She would sing and dance, while he accompanied her on the guitar.
In 1923 Smith signed to Columbia Records and performed her first session for the record company on February 15 of that year.
She began to reach stardom with her first release, which coupled “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Downhearted Blues.” From there Smith never lost steam, releasing popular hits including “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” and collaborations with Louis Armstrong, such as “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle” and “St. Louis Blues.”
Latifah is a well-suited actress to play this role as she has experience in made-for-television movies, as well as musicals like “Chicago,” for which she received an Oscar nomination.
The rapper turned actress won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made For Television in 2008 for her part in “Life Support,” an HBO movie where she played a woman dealing with a crack addiction while trying to raise her children. She has also been nominated for Academy Awards , Emmys and Image Awards, among others.
The biopic has no exact premiere date yet, but is slated to release in 2015.