PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Fantasia Barrino, Stepping Into Her Favorite Era in Broadway's After Midnight

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21 Oct 2013

These women — Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald did they serve as your vocal inspirations growing up?

Fantasia Barrino
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

FB: Oh, God, yes. I always said I was born in the wrong time. I felt like I should've been born in that era! Those women were very, very strong, beautiful [women], but women who went through a lot of things. They sung their pain. They sung their hurt, and they pushed through by the music. Even [Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's] "Stormy Weather"… It's a beautiful song, but lyrically, it's talking about pain — being hurt, not being able to seem to find the right love and [how to] actually get through that pain, that heavy pain. I can feel that pain. I played Celie, and she dealt with a lot of things… This one is a little different, but there's still a lot of emotion in my role.

What excites you to about being able to bring this era — the 20s and 30s — to 2013 Broadway? After Midnight is riffing from the Cotton Club tradition of bringing in special guests — drawing in different audiences to relive this era.
FB: It excites me because it lets the younger generation know where it all started. Sometimes jazz can be looked over, and people can say, "I don't get it." And, I say, "Well, you have to sit down and open your ears and listen to everybody that is a part of the song — the saxophone, the piano… Everybody has a voice as well as the artist." So before I came to New York, all I was doing was playing the music. My 12-year-old daughter would come in the room and say, "Who is that?" And then Ella Fitzgerald would begin to scat, and she'd say, "Well, what do you call that?" It made me excited — she wants to know: "What type of music is this, Mommy? Where did it all start?" Everyone who is going to come, who hasn't listened to jazz or known the history of it, will get to see where it all started and who paved the way for us.

I find it interesting that Langston Hughes' poetry and language is used to guide the audience through the piece. Did artists of this era have an affect on who you grew up to be? What special ties do you haveb to the Jazz Age?
FB: I would always say Billie Holiday is my favorite, and Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Cab Calloway — they're all my favorites. I'm only 29 years old, but I grew up on their music, and I have a musical family. My grandfather loved B.B. King — that's all he would play. I think, at such a young age, everybody would say, "You have such an old soul," and I didn't get it. But I think that these women [influenced me] — after I started going though a lot of different situations in my life and beginning to really listen to them… I'd watch them on YouTube and how they carried themselves and how they spoke, and whenever they'd sing it'd be completely different from their speaking voice. You would [think], "Whoa! Where did that come from?" I think that they were soul singers. They sung their feelings. They sung their life — what they were going through — and I'm just like that.


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