“I’ve been doing a lot of research on great women in music,” says Roz White. “And what they had to deal with, as far as the industry was concerned, was only one small piece of it. Around them, their world was literally crashing and burning because of people’s hatred. And so, to still be able to sing, and to still be able to make people laugh or evoke happy emotion or hope, is a power I think we possess that we sometimes take for granted.”
White pays tribute to five persevering predecessors in a new cabaret presented as part of Signature Theatre’s annual “Sizzlin’ Summer” series. Resist: A Revolutionary Cabaret highlights Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Alberta Hunter, Abbey Lincoln, Roberta Flack, and Nina Simone. “I basically become each woman as I’m telling their story, and give you a little insight into their thinking during the time of their heyday.”
Over the past decade, White has done just that, often at Alexandria’s MetroStage. In 2008, she co-wrote and starred in that theater’s superb Pearl Bailey…By Request. “All of these women endured great hardships,” she says, “[and] each one was revolutionary in the music industry as well as just in pop culture in general.” Tharpe, for instance, was “basically kicked out of the church because she played the guitar and rock-and-roll,” and Lincoln rejected being a sex symbol by wearing “Afrocentric clothing and covering up more, to make people really listen to her music.”
White’s cabaret will also touch on progress made over the last century. “I want to show how women in the industry had to go from an image being imposed on us to taking control and empowering ourselves and creating our own image,” says White, adding that it’s a general lesson that the newer generation could stand to learn.
“We’ve got to teach younger people how to fight and how to resist. It’s not about throwing things and burning things and destroying things, it’s about building.” It’s also not relying on social media and technology to provide answers.
“Somebody doing a live feed [from] their living room saying, ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a huge difference [from the] effort that went into these women being able to have a voice. We didn’t have the technology. It was a lot more work, a lot more legwork, a lot more resist. We had to push through.” –Doug Rule
Roz White’s Resist: A Revolutionary Cabaret is Saturday, July 8, at 9 p.m., in Signature Theatre’s The Ark, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Tickets are $35, or $175 for an All-Access Pass to the Series, which starts Wednesday, July 5, and runs to Sunday, July 22. Call 703-820-9771 or visit sigtheatre.org for a full schedule.