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07.29.09

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Phaedra

IMAGE BANK: For 'Mirror, Mirror of My Soul,' Cheryl Bennett-Scales looks into the lives of African American jazz greats.

Vocal Quartet

Cheryl Bennett-Scales brings four famous singers to life

By Jessica Fromm


A SPIRITUAL, metaphysical love letter to strong black women, Mirror, Mirror of My Soul offers a mystical reflection of four legendary songstresses. Actress and jazz vocalist Cheryl Bennett-Scales channeled the charismatic and often tragic energies of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt and Miriam Makeba last weekend at the Theater on San Pedro Square.

Presented by the San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild and the Tabia African American Theatre Ensemble, the solo performance was a surrealistic meditation on these women's compelling lives and works, with a distinctive orphic touch.

Surprisingly, Bennett-Scales, who created, wrote and performed the piece, did not attempt to impersonate the four renowned singers literally in her show. Instead, she used video, dance, lighting and song to bring the divas to life. Though a talented singer and entertainer, Bennett-Scales does not possess the vocal strength of Nina Simone. As such, she chose to recite the words of the High Priestess of Soul, along with a projected video of Simone's knockout set of "Ain't Got No, I've Got Life" at the 1969 Harlem Festival.

She also approached the subject of Miriam Makeba nontraditionally, showing a video of the South African singer and civil rights activist singing her hit "Pata Pata," and then going into character as a little girl who idolizes the singer. Bennett-Scales was most powerful in her portrayal of Lady Day, whom she brought to the stage with the help of candles, masks, a stand-alone looking glass frame and a smoke machine.

The actress has played Holiday several times in the small-scale bio-show Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. Though physically Bennett-Scales looks more like Diana Ross, she successfully conjured up the seminal jazz singer's personality and heartbreaking style. Showing Holiday both shooting up and in a teetering smack-induced haze, Bennett-Scales was unafraid to gloss over these dynamic women's lives.


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