The talented Ms Minghella brings her Billie Holliday tribute to The New Theatre Royal

One way or another, jazz singer Edana Minghella's gig at the New Theatre Royal is going to be an emotional one.

Tuesday, 6th September 2016, 6:00 am
Edana Minghella

She’ll be paying tribute to the legendary jazz singer Billie Holliday, which she admits makes her well up at the best of times.

But she’s also performing in the theatre’s Minghella Room, which was named in tribute to her brother, the late Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella.

Holliday has been a lifelong inspiration to Edana, so it was natural for her to do some tribute concerts tying in with the centenary of her birth.

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‘I thought it was a good opportunity to sing some of the songs from her songbook. I started to do some research into her life and it was heartbreaking and inspiring.

‘I wanted to talk about her in these gigs and they were so popular – people loved her and the music is absolutely wonderful – that I thought I’ve got to do an album of her music, All Or Nothing, which was released in May.’

Reinterpreting any distinctive voice is one fraught with danger, so did she find it daunting?

‘It is a bit.

‘But to quote Billie, I don’t try to sing like anybody else, why would I try to do that? I’ve got to be who I am, and that’s what I’m like as well.

‘I’m not imitating Billie Holliday at all, I do my own interpretations of the music that she either wrote or interpreted herself, because obviously she was singing at the time of these great songwriters like Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael.

‘It’s me – and I’m a very emotional singer. It’s very much me, but it’s her songbook.’

One song in particular only got included after people kept asking her for it – Strange Fruit, a chilling song about lynchings in the deep south.

She initially felt it would be wrong for her to ‘appropriate’ such a song, associated as it is with the black civil rights movement, but on doing more research, discovered it was based on a poem written by a Jewish schoolteacher, which Holliday saw and asked to be put to music.

‘I thought I would go back to it as a poem,’ explains Edana, ‘so for my album and my gigs I read it and the band improvises. It’s really spine-tingling. It’s one of the most beautiful things that’s come out of the album.’

This show on the tour will be loaded with extra significance for Edana.

It was also her brother who helped rekindle her love for jazz and helped her to start a new career as a singer.

‘I’ve always sung – all my family are musical, but I suppose, you do other things and don’t follow that dream.

‘Anthony, he did this film, The Talented Mr Ripley and I joined him on set in Italy and then in America when he was editing it, so I had a great affinity with it.

‘When he first started making the film I went to his office one day and in there were piles of CDs, I’ve never seen so many in my life, and they were all jazz. We went through all this jazz and it was amazing, and I began to reconnect with it.

‘Shortly after the film was released, the musical director of the film Guy Barker, who’s a famous trumpeter, brought his band to the Isle of Wight where my parents were having their 50th wedding anniversary and they played and he said come up and sing. I did and that was it.

‘So my first outing was with the Guy Barker Quintet.’

However, for this gig, Edana will be revelling in the family link when she plays in the Minghella Room.

‘I’m really looking forward to this show and I feel honoured to play there.

‘I know it’s an intimate space, so I think it’s going to be perfect – you need an intimate space for jazz. I know I’ll be very emotional because of the connection with Anthony, but he’s always with me anyway.’

The Minghella Room, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Friday, September 9