In celebration of Bessie, chronicling the life of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, HBO recently launched the Bessie’s 81 Theatre Tour. Kicking off in New York City, the event series coincided with Bessie’s Manhattan red carpet premiere (starring Queen Latifah, Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Tory Kittles, Tika Sumpter, Charles S. Dutton and Mo’Nique). The tour will conclude in Los Angeles in May, leading up to the on air premiere on May 16.

Honoring Smith’s legacy, the invite-only event series highlights local music acts in each city and also offer students and aspiring musicians the chance to hone their skills with songwriter Stacy Barthe and Grammy-winning producer Brian Michael Cox. A private workshop will feature a Q&A with Cox and Barthe, to arm attendees of the workshop with tools to further their musical careers and build their repertoire.

Both New York and Los Angeles will also feature a music showcase, comprised of a series of performances from local artists selected by industry insiders. The New York City stop concluded with a private dinner at Left Bank, followed by a surprise performance by the inimitable Janelle Monáe and deejayed by D-Nice.

“When thinking about how we wanted to build buzz about the film, we wanted to do something that was completely unique and immersive,” says Lucinda Martinez, SVP of Multicultural Marketing. “We’re confident that this event series properly honors the legacy of Bessie Smith by showcasing aspiring songwriters and producers. We want to raise awareness for the film, create connections and offer these young creatives a platform to share their craft. And hopefully inspire, through Bessie, the next great artist.”

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1894, Smith first rose to fame with “Downhearted Blues.” She eventually became one of the highest paid African-American performers of the 1920s. During her career, Smith held residence at Atlanta’s 81 Theatre, where she performed on numerous occasions. HBO’s Bessie focuses on Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “the Empress of the Blues,” one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s and an enduring icon today.

Bessie premieres on HBO on Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit To join or follow the social media conversation about the event series, use the official hashtag #Bessie81Tour.