At a press conference Friday afternoon, it was announced by representatives of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center that the Bessie Smith Strut—the popular annual street party event held on ML King Blvd. as part of Riverbend—was to be renamed “The Bessie and Will Smith Strut,” by unanimous decision of the organizers.
The new name comes one year after several notable changes were made to the festival, including charging an admission fee for the formerly free event, beefing up security and enclosing the grounds of the Strut with fencing.
Head organizer Pat Loorey explained that the name change was made in an attempt to draw a bigger audience and be more accessible by appealing to fans of Will Smith, known as a star of many blockbuster films including Men in Black and Independence Day and as a rapper with the moniker “The Fresh Prince.”
Will Smith is not related to the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith nor has any formal connection to Chattanooga.
“Bessie Smith was rightfully called ‘The Empress of the Blues,’ and her rich, soulful voice lives on,” said Loorey. “But parts of her life are frightful and not exactly family-friendly, like her alcoholism and promiscuity.”
“She had some depressing and disturbing songs, with titles like ‘Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair’ and ‘Wasted Life Blues,'” continued Loorey. “Have you heard ‘St. Louis Blues‘? It’s goddamn creepy.”
“Now Will Smith—there’s an entertainer that every man, woman and child in Chattanooga can get behind,” said Loorey, who also pointed out that Will Smith will not be in attendance.
“Come on down Monday and raise an oversized turkey leg to Bessie and Will, and any other successful black people who have the last name ‘Smith,'” said Loorey.