“Sharon E. Scott is… a pyrotechnic personality with all the dazzle of a Fourth of July fireworks display.” – NY Times
Widely regarded as the greatest gospel singer of all time and one of the most powerful voices ever, Jackson’s rise to fame and her struggles and triumphs in the midst of segregated America are the subject of this exuberant and invigorating musical.
At times hilarious, at times poignant, Scott’s musical is a powerful tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit. A West Coast premiere!
Sharon E. Scott
Louis, Jimmy Reid, Papa Clark, Danny Kaye, Trooper, etc
Sharon E. Scott began her career in New York and has performed around the world, touring with several national and international companies, appearing in North and South America, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Europe, and Singapore. Sharon is extremely proud of JUST AS I AM, The amazing depiction of the life, times and music of Mahalia Jackson, conceived and written by Ms. Scott and débuted at The Studio @ 620. Ms. Scott received an invitation to bring her unique performance style to the Mikhail Baryshnikov International Arts Festival. She’s seen in several Off-Broadway productions such as High-Hat Hattie, a one-woman play based on the life of Hattie McDaniel. Sharon has also appeared Off-Broadway in BIingo, directed by Ossie Davis. She also appeared as the Narrator in the Mahaffey/Palladium production of Black Nativity. Sharon has been busy with three original productions, Women of Color, Blues on the Bay, and Sweet Gospel. She’s appeared in several productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’, directed by such notables as Susan Stroman (Crazy for You) and Marion Caffey (Three Mo’ Tenors). Sharon has performed her one- woman show at Chimjes in Singapore. Other Credits include How To Succeed in Business, Gem of the Ocean, Crowns, Kiss Me Kate, Manhattan Casino, Up From the Mississippi Delta, Spunk, Tapestries, Showboat, Nunsense, Nunsense 2: The Second Coming, Sweet Charity, Jerry’s Girls, South Pacific, and The Wiz, to name but a few. Sharon has also appeared as featured vocalist for the Salzburg Orchestra and the Florida West Coast Symphony, and has shared the stage with many noted performers. She had the honor of opening for Mr. Alex Haley, author of Roots, shortly before his death.
Tammy Lynne Hall began playing the piano at age four. Later, Tammy became the pianist not just for the Junior Choir at her home church but also the pianist and organist for her godfather’s church in Terrell, TX, some 40 miles away and she was sometimes the rehearsal accompanist for her school choir from sixth grade at Pearl C. Anderson Junior High to her senior year at the Hockaday School. Because of her talent, Tammy was encouraged to apply and was accepted to the Hockaday School, where she attended on an academic and musical scholarship, which also led to her attending the prestigious and progressive Mills College in Oakland, CA from 1979 to 1981. Tammy’s grandfather also contributed to her musical journey by showing films of the greats Fats Waller, Dorothy Donegan, Hazel Scott, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. These films along with the music she heard on the radio, at church, and the r&b, soul and pop records of the time, even the incidental and theme music she heard on television, all influenced Tammy’s playing. These early experiences would form the triad of Tammy’s core sound: a fusion of Jazz, Gospel and Classical. In pursuit of developing her own voice and the experiences of a ‘Jazz’ life, Tammy left Mills College and gained more improvisational and accompanying experience sitting in with local bands in the Bay Area when a visit to Brussels turned into a 2 year stay. During this time Tammy along with saxophonist Dr. Josylyn Segal, formed the quintet Touche Differente (Different Touch), playing in venues and festivals including the Brussels Jazz Club and the North Sea Jazz Festival, Antwerp, France, Holland and Ibiza, as well as performing and recording with the late saxophonist Noah Howard. Since returning to the Bay Area in 1989, Tammy has with worked award-winning cabaret singer and actress, Connie Champagne, the Supreme Mary Wilson, chanteuse and actress Debbie De Coudreaux, The Montclair Women’s Big Band, Houston Person, the late David ‘Fathead Newman’, jazz violinists Regina Carter, Jeremy Cohen, Mads Tolling, orchestra leader and bassist Marcus Shelby, guitarist Terrence Brewer, vocalists Kim Nalley, Denise Perrier, Pamela Rose, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Holly Near, Lynne Asher, Melba Moore, Miki Howard, Rhonda Benin, Darlene Love, Lady Mem’fis, Veronica Klaus, Diane Witherspoon, Queen Esther Marrow, Ernestine Anderson, Derek Lassiter, Frankye Kelley, Nicolas Bearde, Kenny Washington, Lisa Ferraro Erika Luckett, Karen Drucker and the late Etta Jones. Tammy’s continued involvement with her musical and cultural community include working as an instructor (faculty)/mentor, with a number of non-profit arts organizations making music and theatre accessible to under-funded inner city children and well known and funded organizations such as: Adventures In Music (AIM), under the auspices of the San Francisco Symphony in collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District, The Handful Players Children’s Theatre (San Francisco public schools/Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco), the Drew School (San Francisco), Jazz Camp for Girls at the Jazz School (Berkeley), The Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, Alameda Unified School District, Stanford Jazz Workshop, Zellerbach Foundation, Yoshi’s and the Jazz & Heritage Center of San Francisco and most recently, Musically Minded Academy in Oakland and the Narada Michael Walden Foundation. Tammy has also accompanied the Porter College Gospel Choir at University of California, Santa Cruz as well as the Inner Light Ministries Choir in Soquel,California, both under the direction of Valerie Joi Fiddmont, and shares a Music Ministry with the Centers for Spiritual throughout the Bay Area and California. She has traveled and performed extensively in Japan, Europe and Mexico, including a 30-city tour with Queen Esther Marrow and the Harlem Gospel Singers throughout Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Other venues and festivals of note include Kennedy Center (Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival), Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, Sala Filharmonica (Trento, ITALY), Herbst Theatre, Monterey Jazz Festival, San Jose Jazz Festival, SFJazz Center, Yoshi’s Oakland and San Francisco and Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, CA.
“Sometimes,” exhorts actress Sharon E. Scott, stirringly embodying the rich voice and sassy-sweet attitude of the great Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. “Sometimes, God turns your life upside down—so you can help turn things right side up.”
In the sensational, heartbreaking and soul-lifting biographical theater piece ‘Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am’—running through January 24 at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma—Scott takes what might have been a straightforward story of an American church singer who became an international star, and creates something much richer than mere biography or impersonation.
In a show that runs just over two-and-a-half hours, Scott—who wrote and directed the show—turns Mahalia Jackson’s tumultuous life upside down and sideways, singing nearly thirty of Jackson’s most memorable songs and hymns, all while giving us a sense of Jackson’s vibrant, indomitable style and personality. Simultaneously, she leads her audience through one of America’s most dramatic and moving social evolutions—the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
With first-rate musical direction by Tammy Hall, who accompanies on piano, and assisted on stage by John Shillington in a variety of roles, Scott’s tribute to Jackson is sometimes feels a tad overstuffed, as if she was reluctant to leave any part of the story out. But just when the show seems to reach the full-to-the-brim point, Scott launches a series of emotional climaxes that are nothing short of stunning, transforming the show into tribute to the power of faith. Not just faith in the religious sense, but faith in the power of the human soul to transcend impossible obstacles.
Known in her time as the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson had the power to turn even non-believers into full-fledged Gospel music fans, and with a voice as rich and full of emotion as a full-on Sunday service with lunch served afterwards, Scott makes her audiences believe by showing us how Mahalia did it. In addition to the Florida-based performer’s committed musical performances of songs like ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,’ she turns out to be a first-rate actor, attacking the many storytelling portions of the play with a luscious, laid-back warmth and depth of feeling that might make you believe you are being addressed by the real Mahalia Jackson.
In the second act, when Jackson’s friendship with Martin Luther King is described, the play reaches a new plateau of dramatic tension and lyrical creativity. In one achingly gorgeous sequence, Scott intersperses verses of the song The Lord’s Player, with snippets of her own conversations with Dr. King. The power of the sequence is electrifying and deeply moving.
Shillington proves an equally energetic force, playing recognizable and obscure figures from Mahalia’s life—various promoters, a frighteningly racist policeman, and even the great performer Danny Kaye. Most notably, as Mahalia’s lifelong friend and supporter Studs Terkel, the legendary radio personality and interviewer, Shillington serves as a kind of narrator, setting up the story, and finishing with a breathtaking eulogy to a true American original. “Mahalia Jackson: Just as I Am,” is a must see, as moving as it is ambitious, as inspirational as it is eye-opening.
Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am, runs through January 24 at Cinnabar Theater, cinnabartheater.org.
-David Templeton, KRCB-FM Second Row Center
“Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am,” playing through Jan. 24 at Cinnabar is a history lesson with music: a don’t miss evening of theater.
This is the West Coast premiere of the show, created and performed by Sharon E. Scott, a singer and songwriter. It is by turns funny, thought-provoking, warm, emotional, sad, eye-opening and, of course, rich in the gospel music that Jackson, a late famed gospel artist, so loved.
Jackson, called the “Queen of Gospel,” was also known for her involvement in and support of the civil rights movement.
Born in 1911 in Louisiana, Jackson had her first major recording success in 1947 with “Move On Up a Little Higher,” one of the biggest-selling gospel singles in history. In 1950, she performed for a racially integrated audience at Carnegie Hall and in 1952 had her first European tour. She sang at President Kennedy’s inauguration and was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., singing at the 1963 March on Washington which culminated in King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”
Working with Scott to tell Jackson’s story are music director Tammy Lynne Hall and John Shillington, who play a variety of roles, including broadcaster-historian-author Louis “Studs” Terkel, Danny Kaye and the King himself, Elvis Presley. All three performances are strong, skilled and utterly professional.
This journey down Jackson’s musical road leads us from her early years in New Orleans to her move to Chicago where she rose from singing in a church choir to touring internationally.
“I have had my name hollered out,” she says, “in more languages than beans in a big girl’s bowl.”
Cinnabar’s January productions are usually presented cabaret style and the show lends itself well to the format. Audience participation is encouraged—clapping and/or singing along. Scott’s performance is warm, infectious, enjoyable and personal—at times I felt she was singing just for me.
“Singing,” Scott’s Jackson says, “is like going home to Mama’s house.”
Credit is due as well to Wayne Hovey’s simple but effective set, Krista Smith’s fine lighting design and costume designers Saidah Ben Judah and Pamela Johnson.
There’s a fine selection of gospel to enjoy, including “Move On Up a Little Higher,” “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Although Scott’s Jackson tells the audience early in the show that “there ain’t gonna be no hoochie and no coochie here tonight” there is one delightful non-gospel song, “Kitchen Man,” inspired by the fact Jackson was a great fan of blues singer Bessie Smith.
It’s clear from the program notes this show has been a labor of love for Scott and that dedication and affection shine through as warmly as her powerful, beautiful contralto.
Scott wants to make sure her audience has a good time and encourages them to make friends with those sitting on either side. It’s hard to not be in a good mood, and feel as if you’re at a party with your 100 closest friends when Scott gets the whole theater pitching in to sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
Not only is this a strong show, it’s a moving one. Sadly, as racial unrest is still far too common in this country, civil rights is particularly topical right now. It would be good to think that this show, this wonderful style of music, could be shared across the country promoting Jackson’s quest for racial equality.
-Katie Watts, Argus Courier
Saturday night, I had the supreme pleasure of seeing “Just As I Am: The Life, The Times, The Voice of the World’s First Gospel Superstar Mahalia Jackson”. This piece, with its lengthy title, is unusual in the fact that it is written, directed, and performed by a single dedicated actress and singer: Sharon E. Scott. Without question, Ms Scott’s writing was historically accurate, her direction didn’t miss a beat, and her performance was magical and sublime.
For those of us who experienced the historical events depicted by “Just As I Am”, there was a connection, a reminder at every turn. We remember hearing of the assassinations of President John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, bigotry, prejudice, and segregation in many parts of our country, but Sharon Scott’s connection with the audience, and the unique way she found of telling these stories in Mahalia Jackson’s lifetime was impeccable. Whether strongly leading audience claps on two and four in exciting gospel music or emotionally touching all of us with sensitive ballads, Sharon connected without fail. Joined by Tammy Hall, her musical director and colleague, and John Shillington, her dramatic partner in many roles, Sharon’s story was really the embodiment of Mahalia Jackson herself.
Although sequestered in a back corner of the stage, pianist and musical director Tammy Hall was clearly the musical glue of this production. She and Sharon recreated pieces in rhythmic gospel style which brought the audience squarely, clapping on beats two and four, into the Mahalia Jackson story, but also showed a wonderfully sensitive side in their collaboration performing Duke Ellington’s beautiful “Come Sunday”. John Shillington, acting as coach, dramaturg, and assistant director, was Sharon’s able partner on stage, performing a variety of roles, of people in Mahalia Jackson’s life and journey.
Cinnabar Theater is to be congratulated in bringing this important piece of musical theater to its stage and producing its west coast premiere. The dramatic and musical content is supreme, and the performance is unquestionably superb.
A show ‘not to be missed’ is an understatement for “Just As I Am”. This truly unique piece of musical theater can’t be replaced by the great majority of traditional pieces. Please don’t miss this one! “Just As I Am: The Life, The Times, The Voice of the World’s First Gospel Superstar Mahalia Jackson” will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM from January 8 through January 23, and Sundays at 2PM from January 10 through through January 24, 2016. There is an additional evening performance on Thursday January 21 at 8PM. For more information, please call the Cinnabar Box Office at (707) 763-8920, or visit the Cinnabar Theater website at: www.cinnabartheater.org.
-Richard Riccardi, For All Events
While watching “Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am” at the Cinnabar Theater, I decided to do something rare — turn off my intellect.
And just let myself feel.
I found Sharon E. Scott totally engaging as Jackson. Throughout the two-hour show, she illustrated the gospel legend’s ability to inject tears and prayers into a song. She also turned the vocalist into a flesh-and-blood character (as opposed to a saintly one) by indicating that she “loved to cuss” and was human enough to love loving the pay scale she’d attained.
Scott, in fact, made the gospel singer’s life so real, and so poignant, my eyes watered several times.
And despite being white, I repeatedly felt the intense pain of black struggles in America. Especially in a scene in which Jackson confronted a bigoted Southern cop who robbed her, threatened to beat her and, in an instant, transformed her from star into sub-human.
Scott also had the good sense to step back and let Jobn Shillington grab the spotlight as writer-broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel recalling a 1927 flood — and rumors of dead black bodies being used as sandbags at the New Orleans levees.
Scott’s gospel chops were extremely strong, but to keep gravitas and godliness levels in check, she injected periodic touches of humor. Never better than when sizzling on the double entendre-filled “Kitchen Man.”
Scott, who herself penned the script after enormous research, is a top-drawer performer. Smart enough to encourage rhythmic audience clapping and sing-along. Which was especially effective on “We Shall Overcome.” She periodically excelled on material that went beyond gospel (the pop hit “Crying in the Chapel,” for instance, and the jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In”).
The predominantly white audience reacted most enthusiastically, however, to such classics as “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” “Didn’t It Rain” and an enlarged version of “The Lord’s Prayer” — even when she only offered fragments.
Scott adroitly interwove and balanced background information and songs so well the blending was seamless. And, as her own director, she efficiently utilized projections of black street scenes and political personalities. Her multiple costume changes in full view of the audience were skillfully accomplished, too — so well, in fact, they didn’t in the least distract from her patter.
She also had the good judgment to employ Tammy Hall as her pianist-music director — and Shillington in multiple supporting roles (including Tinseltown song-and-dance man Danny Kaye).
Well worth a trek to Petaluma.
– Woody Weingarten, Marin Scope Newspapers
New Year’s Eve Gala
Ring in 2016 with us! Enjoy delectable desserts before the show, and party favors and champagne at midnight.
Tickets: $66 for adults / $55 for youth 21 and under