Actress Tika Sumpter took many lessons from the story of blues singer Bessie Smith as told in the HBO telefilm “Bessie,” but among the biggest was to persevere despite challenges. “Whether it’s sexism or whether it’s any of those -isms, walk on anyway. Continue to be yourself anyway. Do you anyway,” she says. (Watch our complete video chat below.)
Sumpter plays Lucille, who is in love with Bessie even though she has to share Bessie’s affections with her husband Jack (Michael Kenneth Williams). “What I love about Lucille is she’s kind of this ride-or-die chick,” she says, “this girl who loved her regardless of the excess in Bessie’s life and still held on and still was there when people were fighting over her.”
The film is set during the 1920s and 1930s, and the challenges faced by black entertainers during that period were not lost on Sumpter: “It was tough, not just for women but women of color … These women had to not only be singers, they couldn’t just be artists, they had to be businesswomen. They had to write their own music. They had to be a one-man show. So I have nothing to complain about, because … they were like, okay, this is what I’m given to work with, I’m going to rub two dimes together and I’m going to make millions.”
Sumpter has been involved in a number of music-themed projects in recent years, including the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” and the Motown-era musical “Sparkle.” In fact, she was a singer before she was an actor. Her mother sang opera, “and she taught my sisters how to sing, and she didn’t know I could sing until later on. I think music has just always been in my life … I love music. It runs through my veins.”
And music is a big part of the reason these films resonate with her and with audiences. She explains, “I haven’t met one person who could say they don’t like music, ever. I think music connects everybody because it’s stories about love, it’s stories about careers, it’s stories about being hurt, just stories about life. People connect with that, and I think artists connect with that.”
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