aeriel-williams-young-lena-2-1Style & Grace is the tale of two women, Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson who had a very different approach to the world of singing; however, with their captivating style and grace, they became the 20th century's most popular African-American music divas.

Horne was a phenomenal singer and actress, and in the 1930s and 1940s was considered one of the top performers of her time, performing in films such as 'Cabin in the Sky' and 'The Wiz' as well as her trademark song, "Stormy Weather."

Wilson had a skilled and flexible approach to singing that provided a critical bridge amongst the sophisticated jazz-pop vocalists of the 1950s and the powerhouse pop-soul singers of the 1960s and 1970s.

chantee-joy-mature-lenaStyle and Grace: In Tribute To Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson pays homage to a duo who was born twenty years apart, Horne in 1917 and Wilson in 1937. These ladies never had a personal relationship with one another, and their career paths never crossed; however, they made their mark in the music industry at different times and left an unforgettable deep sound in music history. Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson were two women who had impeccable style and grace that we lost respectively in 2010 and 2018.

Written and directed by long-time Black Ensemble Theater ensemble member associate director Kylah Frye, takes a different approach in the two-act musical "Style & Grace" by presenting Horne and Wilson with two performers, the young and the more mature ladies to tell the story. Aeriel Williams as Young Lena Horne and Chantee Joy as Mature Lena and Jayla Craig as the young Nancy Wilson and BE favorite Rhonda Preston.

jayla-williams-craig-young-nancy-2After the introduction of the performers by the host of the night Vincent Jordan who also played Cab Calloway the stage is set, and the older Lena and Nancy are not seen again until the second act. In the first act, Frye gives us some biographical facts about both ladies by the younger ladies; however, the second act is unadulterated music, a Horne, and Wilson mini-concert.

'Style & Grace' runs 130 minutes, and the musical takes an intimate look at the cost of fame through the years, for these beautiful women, as it chronicles the lives of two women during a different period in the music industry with facts of their differing careers. However not too much was presented about their personal lives, the musical was more geared to their timeless music and own style and how they stayed persistent in following their dreams and perfecting their craft on stage and screen earning the respect that they deserve as women of color.

The four talents that embodied these superstars created a charming collaboration of the younger and older Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson lives and how these phenomenal women left an impact on the world. Twenty-one signature songs were delivered from the Divas, songs that described their ability for selling notes and their emotional fortification of singing songs with the blandest lyrics.

rhonda-preston-mature-nancy3As young Lena Horne story unfolds, she only wants happiness at home as much as her name in lights on a marquee. The musical takes us from her beginnings during her Cotton Club days ("The Calloway Boogie") and her affiliation with Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake ("I'm Just Wild About Harry"). Lena's smoky voice and sultry looks opened doors for her career to blossom as well as her determination to make it becoming an MGM sensation in Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky, and a civil rights icon despite the liability of having a white husband.

Aeriel Williams and Chantee Joy, performed some of Horne's top hits "Honey Suckle Rose," "Satin Doll," "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams...And Dream Your Troubles Away", "I Got Rhythm," "I Wish You Love," "Just One of Those Things," and "Night and Day." Aeriel did a good job of singing Horne's songs, and Joy's concluding "Believe in Yourself" was a crowd favorite.

Nancy Wilson overcame being timid, and with her range and durability, she became a powerful singer. "Broken Hearted Melody," "Guess Who I Saw Today," "One For My Baby (And One More for the Road)", "Face It, Girl," and "The Greatest Performance of My Life" — her song list indicates that she has a particular skill set in singing that can turn a song around and arouse the audience. Jayla Williams Craig was a delight to hear, and Rhonda Preston was stellar, she was in her element as the more mature Nancy, as she embodied her singing vocals to perfection.

Although this was a shorter production than most of BE performances and the cast seemed scaled down and hesitated to remember lines, the singing overall helped to make it an engaging show for Horne and Wilson fans. The musical direction of drummer Robert Reddrick and his seven-man combo did a good job bringing back that old style rhythm and blues, soulful jazz sound.

Let's Play 'Recommend' that you check out 'Style and Grace' at The Black Ensemble Theater.

Black Ensemble Theater continues 2019 Season With
Style and Grace: In Tribute To Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson
Written and Directed by Kylah Frye
May 11 – June 30, 2019

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