Categorized | Entertainment

Clarence Brown Theatre

A Play about Songs, with Songs
Black Pearl Sings! on the Clarence Brown Mainstage

African-American folk songs and spirituals will fill the hall when the Clarence Brown Theatre performs Black Pearl Sings! The production is sponsored by Schaad Companies, the Rotary Club of Knoxville, the Arts and Heritage Fund, and the City of Knoxville. It is recommended for high school ages and up.

One of the top ten most-produced plays in America for 2009-2010, Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! follows the Depression-era journey of two extraordinary women, each of whom is dependent on the other to gain acceptance in society. In 1933, Susannah, a Caucasian academic and song collector for the Library of Congress, visits a Texas prison where she meets Pearl, an African-American woman incarcerated for murder. Hoping to record the treasure trove of spirituals and African folk songs that only Pearl knows, Susannah bargains for Pearl’s parole and arranges for several public performances. The two women soon find themselves walking a delicate line between exposure and exploitation.

“Featuring a cappella renditions of spirituals and folk songs like ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ ‘Troubles So Hard,’ ‘Kum Ba Yah,’ and ‘Pay Me My Money Down,’ the production is a play about discovering songs, with songs,” said Kate Buckley, director. “It touches upon issues of ambition, friendship, race, gender, class, civil rights, and the ownership of heritage.”

The play is partially based on John Lomax’s famous discovery of Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter in a Louisiana prison farm, and on the documentary “The Language You Cry In” which traces a Georgia slave song to one still sung by the women of Sierra Leone, Africa.

The show runs through March 11th. Evening performances begin at 7:30 pm and matinees begin at 2 pm. Ticket prices vary. For tickets, call the Clarence Brown Theatre box office at 865-974-5161, Tickets Unlimited at 865-656-4444 or visit

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