Harlem's fabled Cotton Club came to Charlie's last night. With it came the less sophisticated but joyous sound of tent shows and revival meetings, the blatant suggestiveness of Bessie Smith's later recordings and the emotionally scarred lyricism of a Billie Holiday song. Sandra Reaves-Phillips captured it all in her "Tribute to the Late Great Ladies."
The singer, who stars as big, brassy Bertha in the musical "One Mo' Time!" currently playing at the National Theatre, spent her night off moonlighting before two capacity crowds.Along with Linda Hopkins, Carrie Smith and Nell Carter, she belongs to a special sorority of singers whose expressiveness, vocal power and sheer physical size recalls the classic blues singers of the '20s and some who followed.
With her hair pulled back to reveal a pretty oval face, a feather boa twirling at her side and her considerable weight shifting from hip to hip, she got as many laughs from Bessie Smith's ingeniously contrived, yet sexually transparent "Kitchen Man" as one could hope for.
At the same time, she also managed to do justice to more demanding material. Comparing Billie Holiday's voice to a violin, she sang a haunting "Solitude" before bringing Billie and Bessie together in a poignant medley of "God Bless the Child" and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."