Black Pearl Sings!

April 24 — June 17, 2012
In the Ellyn Bye Studio

By Frank Higgins
Directed by Bill Fennelly

In 1935 Texas, Susannah, an academic and song collector for the Library of Congress, visits a high-security prison where she meets Pearl, an African-American woman imprisoned for murder who longs to leave prison and find her lost daughter. Hoping to record the treasure trove of spirituals and African folk songs that only Pearl knows—and make her reputation on the discoveries—Susannah bargains for Pearl’s parole and arranges for several public performances. The two women soon find themselves walking a delicate line between exposure and exploitation.

Featuring beautiful a cappella renditions of little-known American folk songs, Black Pearl Sings! chronicles a powerful story about being a woman in a man’s world, being black in a white world, and fighting for one’s soul in a world where anyone can be a commodity.

Performance times:
Tuesday - Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Thursday matinees at noon

A full list of performances and dates will appear when you enter the ticketing section of the website.

Black Pearl Sings! runs approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.

View the cast and creative team bios

Learn more about accessibility options at PCS

Performance Times

Evenings: Tuesday - Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Matinees: Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m.,
Thursdays at noon

*Note: These are general performance times. Certain productions may have exceptions. View the season calendar for more information.

This show's run time will be posted below the synopsis at left near the date of the first performance.

Production blog

Caught Out of Time

05 June 2012 & Posted by Kinsley Suer

We recently stumbled upon an article from The New York Times about the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narrative Project, a program very similar to the one depicted in Black Pearl Sings!. Throughout the 1930s, the Slave Narrative Project sought to compile interviews with African Americans who had actually lived through the Civil War. Although approximately 2,000 interviews were compiled, only 27 of them were recorded. Luckily, you actually listen to them online through the Library of Congress’ website!


75 1/2 Bedford Street

31 May 2012 & Posted by Kinsley Suer

When Pearl and Susannah arrive in New York City’s Greenwich Village in Black Pearl Sings!, they stay in an apartment across the street from what is described as the “narrowest house in New York,” home to the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. After hearing such a unique and specific line, my interest was piqued, so I decided to do a little digging. Is there really a “narrowest house in New York,” and if so, how narrow is it? Where is it? And, did Edna St. Vincent Millay really live there? I’ve got the scoop!


Cab Calloway and The Cotton Club

03 May 2012 & Posted by Kinsley Suer

In Black Pearl Sings!, Pearl is released from prison and travels to New York City with Susannah, the song collector who has secured her release. Susannah has arranged for Pearl to perform her songs for various academic groups throughout the city. After her first concert, Pearl is inundated with attention from the “ladies of the historical society,” who take her out for a night on the town – including a stop to sing with Cab Calloway at the famed Cotton Club.



ASL Description: Black Pearl Sings View on Vimeo »

Art and photos for Black Pearl Sings!. View on Flickr »

Trailer for Black Pearl Sings! View on Vimeo »

Reviews and Features

Marie G-G | Every Day Is a Miracle [Review 21 May 2012]

This afternoon Mike and I went to see “Black Pearl Sings” at Portland Center Stage, and we both found it to be a profoundly moving experience. Our season package is for the large mainstage productions, but we swapped out the Christmas play for this one in the smaller, more intimate Ellyn Bye Studio in the basement because I was immediately attracted to the plot. (Mike likes seeing plays in this theater because the subscribers get to select their general admission seats first…it’s his British snobbiness coming into play!)

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Holly Johnson | The Oregonian [Review 30 Apr 2012]

Memories may fade, but songs from our early years stay close. In Frank Higgins’ heartwarming, feisty Black Pearl Sings! at Portland Center Stage, African folk songs open a door to history, and lead one woman out of prison. In the 1930s Susannah (played by Lena Kaminsky), a white woman from a privileged New York family, travels the South recording folk songs and indigenous music.  When she hears African American prisoner Pearl (Chavez Ravine) singing in a Texas high-security lockup, she knows she’s tapped a rich vein of treasured music reaching into the past. She wants the songs, but Pearl needs something from her in return, and as the two negotiate an exchange, friendship grows. Ravine and Kaminsky shine in their roles. Both sing shimmering a cappella pieces and deliver a dry humor that enriches the play.

Chloe Hagerman | Be Portland [Review 30 Apr 2012]

Portland Center Stage’s play Black Pearl Sings! by Frank Higgins got off to a roaring start at Gerding Theater in the Ellen Bye Studio. Chavez Ravine, who plays the title character, lets off a large and moving collection of melancholy folk songs. If you find yourself taking a seat in the studio, be prepared to sing in one of them yourself as part of the chorus.

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