Chicago Humanities Festival “Four Women..” Concert – Woman Power Pouring from the Stage

The cast of "Four Women.."


Rob Lindley and Doug Peck, the team that has brought memorable cabaret type performances to the Chicago Humanities Festival for a decade (The William and Greta Wiley Flory Concerts), thought long and hard about how to pair their content with this year’s festival theme of “Citizens”.  Lindley shared that at first they thought they’d do compilations of patriotic tunes by Irving Berlin and such.  Then current events took over.   Because we are in the times when “Ferguson” is short-hand for the pile on of racial profiling incidents that are finally getting their due attention, the topic of how racial inequality has driven many of our best musical talents offshore to live as expats became the theme of this year’s cabaret.  It was not citizens, but citizens-not. 


E. Faye Butler singing "Mississippi Goddam" a la Nina Simone


More, the focus was specifically on four legendary African-American female performers—Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, and Tina Turner—all of whom had to contend with being underestimated and worse because they were female and Black.


Karla Beard-Leroy singing "Jai deux amours" a la Josephine Baker


To tell the tales of these four strong women- -or rather to sing it—were six powerhouse chanteuses – Dee Alexander, Karla Beard-Leroy, E. Faye Butler, Lynne Jordan, Alexis J. Rogers and Bethany Thomas.  They were accompanied by dancer Monique Haley, whose muscular torso rippled strength, along with narrator Lili-Anne Brown, Artistic Director of Bailiwick Chicago, among other credits.


(left to right) Lynne Jordan, Bethany Thomas, Alexis J. Rogers, and E. Faye Butler singing "To Be Young Gifted and Black"


All of these women were and are rock stars, in the figurative sense.  To see Monique Haley recreating Josephine Baker’s famed “banana dance” was almost startling to those of us who never knew how much Baker was pushing the envelope.  The six women singing more than 20 songs had voices quite distinct from one another and yet each were able to convey the styling of their inspirations – Josephine, Eartha, Nina and Tina. 


Monique Haley (dancer) and Alexis J. Rogers performing "Island in the West Indies" a la Josephine Baker


At some point—probably when Bethany Thomas sang “My Man’s Gone Now” evoking Nina Simone—it seemed like every song was akin to each of the singers raising the ante in a poker game with more and more power flowing from the stage.


Narrator Lili-Anne Brown with Nina Simone projected above


When Bethany Thomas sang the final rendition of “River Deep, Mountain High” from Tina Turner’s repertoire it had the power of an earthquake—not only because she seems to channel Turner’s very core but also because all the other performers had previously set the bar so high.


The shame seems to be that such a great show of WOMAN POWER will only see the light of day for these two performances.  Memo to Chicago Humanities Festival—please sponsor these women on tour, starting with Chicago’s middle schools.



The 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) continues through November 8.  For a complete schedule visit the “Citizens” pages on the CHF website and bookmark the website for news about the 2016 Festival. 





Photos:  Michael Brosilow

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