Jackie Richardson won’t be alone when she takes to the stage Saturday night at the Registry Theatre. Beyond the four-piece band, she’ll be accompanied by the likes of Big Mama Thornton, Alberta Hunter and Ma Rainey.
Those stalwarts of blues and jazz aren’t just part of her repertoire, but also roles she’s played in an award-winning career that’s taken Richardson from musical performances to the stage and screen.
Her acting credits in theatre include her Dora Award-winning performance in the Harlem Renaissance musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, featuring the music of Fats Waller. She also won a Dora Award for her performance in Cookin’ at The Cookery – The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter. In 2013 she was acclaimed for her stage portrayal of Willie Mae Thornton, the woman who recorded Hound Dog and Ball and Chain before Elvis and Janis, in Big Mama! at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
In that vein, there’s a good chance you’ll hear the likes of Alberta Hunter’s ‘I’m Having a Good Time’ or ‘The Love I Have for You’ on Saturday night, staples since Richardson’s on-stage portrayal.
“Cookin’ at the Cookery was a role that I absolutely loved,” she says from her Toronto home. “Alberta Hunter was just such an impressive woman. I absolutely fell in love with her.”
Hunter, she says, had an amazing life story in which she built a pioneering career in the early part of the century then essentially getting out of the business for two decades while she worked as a nurse before coming back at age 82, capping a career in which she never really got her due.
Richardson’s stage versions of some legendary blues performers can be traced back to fellow U.S.-born, Toronto-based artist Salome Bey’s suggestion – more like insistence – that she take on the blues.
“It’s from there that I’ve been able to delve into five different strong women in the genre.”
Born near Pittsburgh before coming to Toronto with her family as a child, Richardson grew up with gospel and jazz music – her father was a singer – and enjoyed the offerings of Motown in her teenage years. Richardson made her professional singing debut at age 16 when she joined the Toronto-based R&B group The Tiaras along with her sister Betty.
The musical career led to acting on stage, films and television, for which Richardson has numerous credits. Her film performances include Gracie, from the Gemini Award winning series Inside Stories. In 2011, she received a Gemini Award for her performance in the film The Gospel According to the Blues, in which Jackie stars as an African-Canadian gospel singer. She spent a month in New York in the summer of 2017 with Soulpepper Theatre. More recently she performed in UNCOVERED, the music of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, together with other outstanding Canadian performers, including Divine Brown and Brent Carver. Among her many other awards, Jackie has received the Canadian Actors’ Equity Lifetime Achievement Award, the Canadian Black Achievement Award, and the Toronto Blues Society Lifetime Achievement Award.
As a performer who concentrates on the lyrics of songs, Richardson says it’s an approach that translate well into acting, where the goal is to use the words to express a character or a role.
“I find the music in acting. I grew to love it,” she said of her turn as an actor.
Acting on stage is more like a musical performance in that it’s immediate and in front of an audience as opposed to the bits and pieces of film acting, she says. On stage, there are many rehearsals to flesh out the character, whereas on TV and films, the actor has make the character her own in short order, akin to putting emotion to the lyrics of song beyond just the melody or the beat.
But it will be her singing that’s front and centre Saturday night in Kitchener. The performance will draw on a variety of genres – jazz, gospel, soul and blues – for an energetic evening, if her two previous visits to the Registry are any indication.
“We’ve got a mixture of music for this show,” she says, acknowledging that her may experiences and collaborations have provided a large catalogue from which to choose.
For this show, she’ll be joined by longtime collaborator Tom Szczesniak on piano, Neil Swainson on bass, John Johnson on saxophone and Ethan Ardelli on drums.
The performance, Jackie Richardson – In the Spirit, is set for May 26 at The Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $30, available by calling 519-578-1570, online at www.registrytheatre.com or at the door.