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‘Black Pearl’ preserves history

Two actresses convey roots of American music

Thursday, March 8, 2012

By Bill Buell (Contact )
Gazette Reporter

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Jannie Jones, left, is Pearl and Jessica Wortham is Susannah in a scene from the Capital Repertory Theatre production of “Black Pearl Sings!”, which begins with previews on Friday night. (photl: Virginia Stage Company)

It was music that brought Jannie Jones and Jessica Wortham into the theater world, so in “Black Pearl Sings!,” Frank Higgins’ tribute to folk songs, slave spirituals and the 1930s, both actors feel right at home.

“I feel like this show was written for me,” said Jones, who shares the stage with Wortham in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of Higgins’ 2007 work. The show begins with previews Friday night, opens next Tuesday and runs through April 7. “This is the kind of music I was raised on. It’s exactly my style.”

In “Black Pearl Sings!,” Jones is Alberta “Pearl” Johnson, a black woman who, along with being imprisoned for murder, is a walking encyclopedia in the realm of African-American roots music. Along with her knowledge of the slave spirituals, Pearl is also a talented singer and is “discovered” by Susannah Mullally, an ethnomusicologist played by Wortham.

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