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Black Pearl Sings! taking the stage at Clarence Brown Theatre

black pearl singsKNOXVILLE -- Frank Higgins' Black Pearl Sings!, one of the top ten most-produced plays in America for 2009-2010, is taking the mainstage at Clarence Brown Theatre February 23 - March 11.

African-American folk songs and spirituals will fill the hall during the production which follows the Depression-era journey of two extraordinary women, each of whom is dependent on the other to gain acceptance in society. In 1933 Susannah, a Caucasian academic and song collector for the Library of Congress, visits a Texas prison where she meets Pearl, an African-American woman incarcerated for murder. Hoping to record the treasure trove of spirituals and African folk songs that only Pearl knows, Susannah bargains for Pearl's parole and arranges for several public performances. The two women soon find themselves walking a delicate line between exposure and exploitation.

"Featuring a cappella renditions of spirituals and folk songs like "This Little Light of Mine," Troubles So Hard, "Kum Ba Yah," and "Pay Me My Money Down," the production is a play about discovering songs, with songs. It touches upon issues of ambition, friendship, race, gender, class, civil rights and the ownership of heritage," said Kate Buckley, director.

The play is partially based on John Lomax's famous discovery of Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter in a Louisiana prison farm, and on the documentary "The Language You Cry In" which traces a Georgia slave song to one still sung by the women of Sierra Leone, Africa.

"Because of people like Susannah, we have recordings of some of our country's most inspiring music. This music was sung originally by a terrified group of Africans, "sung in chains, in darkness, at the bottom of the boat. Sung when they didn't know where they was goin', only where they was from," then sung by slaves, to motivate their bodies and souls to carry them through punishing work in the Southern heat. Because of people like Pearl in the world, we have the opportunity to understand and appreciate the true meaning of those songs," said Buckley.

Kate Buckley (Director) is currently a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Formerly she was a founding member of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Her previous directing credits at UT include: Moonlight and Magnolias, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Charley's Aunt, Copenhagen, and Antigone. Her regional theatre credits include productions at The Goodman Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Players Theatre, Kansas City Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Writers Theatre, Skylight Opera Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, and The Next Theatre, where she served as artistic director for four years. Internationally, she has worked in Milan (Italy), Prague (Czech Republic), and Bratislava (Slovak Republic). She has been honored by Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Committee on numerous occasions, including Best Director, has received two After Dark Awards for Outstanding Direction, a Distinguished Alumni Award from Aurora University, and a Creative Research Award from the University of Tennessee.

The production is sponsored by Schaad Companies, the Rotary Club of Knoxville, the Arts and Heritage Fund, and the City of Knoxville. It is recommended for high school ages and up.

Preview for the show is February 23, 2012. Opening night is February 24, 2012. The show runs through March 11, 2012. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Matinees begin at 2 p.m. Ticket prices vary. For tickets, call the Clarence Brown Theatre box office at 865-974-5161, Tickets Unlimited at 865-656-4444 or online at

Published February 19, 2012

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