A portrait of the famed “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith, in the form of a linocut print by Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, will be the subject of the Art Museum of WVU’s next “Art Up Close!” event, to be held Tuesday, March 1.
Christopher Wilkinson, WVU professor emeritus of Music History, will present “Two Strong Women: Bessie Smith and Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs,” at 5:30 p.m. in the Museum Education Center.
The talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session and light refreshments. Those attending will also be able to view the print up close.
“Bessie Smith: The Queen of the Blues” was a gift to the Art Museum from Harvey and Jennifer Peyton, of Charleston, West Virginia, in 2015.
“The linocut was part of a series portraying leading figures in African American history, including, among others, Marian Anderson, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and Sojourner Truth,” Wilkinson said.
“A print, by definition, is easily reproduced. Burroughs wished to make inexpensive copies available to members of the black community as a way to encourage their sense of worth in the face of white cultural oppression.”
Artist Margaret Taylor Goss Burrough (1915 – 2010) played a leading role in the development of African-American cultural institutions in her adopted home of Chicago, culminating in the establishment of the DuSable Museum of African American History on the city’s south side. She created work in a variety of visual media, wrote poetry, and published books for children.
Bessie Smith (1892-1937) was the leading singer of the blues in the 1920s and 1930s. Her career began on the streets of her hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee, sometime between 1902 and 1904. As a vaudevillian in the teens of the last century, she developed an enormous following among African Americans.
“Beginning in 1923, Smith developed an international reputation as a consequence of her many recordings for Columbia Records,” Wilkinson said. “She rose from poverty to great personal wealth by giving voice to the experiences of black women. By doing so, she paved the way for later generations of women in various musical styles to continue to reflect upon their lives.”
Wilkinson was a faculty member in the WVU School of Music from 1976 to 2013. For two and a half decades, his research focused on African-American music, with particular attention to jazz history prior to World War II. In addition to articles and presentations on this topic, he produced two book-length studies: “Jazz on the Road: Don Albert’s Musical Life” (2001) and “Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia, 1930-1942” (2013). His interest in African-American music is a part of a larger interest in black American culture and its profound impact upon the culture of the nation as a whole.
Art Up Close! events are held several times each year and present WVU faculty and guest artists from various disciplines discussing a single work of art from the perspectives of their disciplines. Audience members have the opportunity to view the actual works of art at the programs.
Art Up Close! is co-sponsored by the Art Museum of WVU and the Friends of the Museum, a membership group for people who enjoy the arts and social, educational and cultural activities revolving around art.
For more information about the program on March 1, contact the Art Museum of WVU at 304.292.4359.
Margaret Burroughs, “Bessie Smith, Queen of the Blues,” ca. 1945; Linocut
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, Art Museum of WVU
Art Museum of WVU on the Web – http://artmuseum.wvu.edu/
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