EP 530: George C. Wolfe on Bringing a Blues Icon to the Screen

Five-time Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe talks about his acclaimed new motion picture Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the legacy of the original the original Mother of the Blues, and what went into transforming Oscar-winner Viola Davis into this larger than life icon. He discusses what the Chicago jazz scene meant to black musicians who migrated from the Jim Crow South in the 1920s and some of the creative ways that he found to visually depict the foreignness of the urban north for those who made that journey. George opens up about the process of bringing August Wilson’s play to the screen and why he chose to use Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh as a double for the windy city. He shares why he always has an intense rehearsal period before he shoots a frame of film, how his own experience as an occasional actor informs his directing, and how he got the performance of a lifetime out of the late Chadwick Boseman. Plus we talk about the white bandleader who appropriated black music and then had the nerve to bill himself as "the king of jazz," the relevance of Ma Rainey’s story in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, and the swirl of Oscar buzz surrounding this five-time Tony-winning director and his movie.


George C. Wolfe's fantastic film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is now showing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix. I also encourage you to check out the wonderful motion picture soundtrack by the great Branford Marsalis and discover some of the original recordings by the real Ma Rainey on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Pandora, or wherever you like to listen. Some of my personal favorites by Ma include "See See Rider Blues," "Chain Gang Blues," "Prove It On Me," "Moonshine Blues," "Hear Me Talking to You," and of course "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

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