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‘History Alive’ Showcases ‘Empress of the Blues’ At Next Lunch With Books

Lady D

WHEELING — The Ohio County Public Library kicks off Black History Month in style on Tuesday, when its weekly Lunch With Books program welcomes Lady D for a special “History Alive” presentation.

The program will take place at noon on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the library in Wheeling. The program can also be viewed online via the library’s live stream. This will be the first in a series of programs in February dedicated to celebrating Black History Month.

As the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, Bessie Smith was the highest-paid Black performer of her day. She was known as the “Empress of the Blues” by virtue of her forceful vocal delivery and command of the genre. In addition, she was an all-around entertainer who danced, acted and performed comedy routines with her touring company.

She was a staple of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” and throughout the Jim Crow South, and many of her tunes have been covered by various artists through the decades. Smith made an infamous visit to Wheeling in 1936.

During Tuesday’s program, Smith will be portrayed by Doris Fields — also known as Lady D, “West Virginia’s First Lady of Soul” — an R&B, soul and blues musician and songwriter living in Beckley.

This program is presented through the West Virginia Humanities Council’s “History Alive,” a program of first-person portrayals of historical figures by presenters who have conducted scholarly research on their character.

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