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TAKING THE STAGE AS A WOMAN, THIS MAN DELIVERS DIVAíS SONGS
By Louise Kennedy (taken from The Boston Globe)
Jim Bailey performs as Barbra Streisand in Symphony Hall tomorrow night at 8, in a benefit concert for New Hampshireís AIDS Response-Seacoast. Bailey spoke this week by phone from his California home about his act.
Youíve portrayed Streisand, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee Ė
singing like them, talking like them, recreating them onstage.
How do you do it?
A. I donít know how I do it. Itís a gift, and I donít question it. Because I donít quite understand it.
You had classical music training.
How did you move from that to Garland, then the others?
A. I was in my car one day with the radio on, and ďZing Went The Strings Of My HeartĒ came on. I just started singing along with it, and I thought, ďOh, my God.Ē Itís a little scary. When I got home, I took out some albums and sang along with them. As I did it, I felt my body change. I felt my stance change, the way I was holding my head. It was like I was becoming Judy Garland.
And youíve done Madonna Ė
A. I still havenít healed fro the bruises on that one. We did it in Australia. Everybody said, ďOh, you must do Madonna, you must.Ē There really isnít anybody current that I care that much about to do Ė sings, you know, singers. And this music, it doesnít stay around Ė itís not going to be standards in 10 years. So I got convinced to do Madonna. It was very difficult. It was aerobics. So I thought, you know, I was dealt this hand of being able to do these wonderful women who are legends, and look at their music, oh my God.
You do all your own makeup.
A. Ben Lane, who for many years was the head makeup man at Warner Studios, taught me the little tricks of the trade. Shadowing, not having to do tricks or prostheses. Lighting and makeup ha so much to do with what I do.
Q. And acting -
A. Thatís the part of what I do that I canít explain. People ask me, ďHow can someone learn to do that?Ē I say, ďYou know something? God gave me a gift, itís not something you can go and learn some place.Ē He game me this special talent. I have an ear; I hear voices and I can change it and become them vocally. You can make anybody up to look like anybody, if you want to. But to put them onstage for two hours to do a concert is totally different. I go for the soul. I really become part of that person for the two hours that Iím on the stage. I cannot explain how that happens; it really is very magical.
Q. Youíve said you
donít think of it as impersonation.
A. It is an illusion. Itís not female impersonation. Itís not camp or a takeoff. It becomes something totally different. Way back when, in Greek times, the men played female roles. In England in Shakespearean days, the men played female roles very convincingly. And then we have Kabuki. They are acting. And thatís what I do. Iím an actor. Because I donít have any contemporaries, it limits me; ďOh, heís a female impersonator.Ē You have to go a little deeper than that. Thatís not what itís all about. I do what Hal Holbrook did; I do what Bobby Morse did with ďTru.Ē But you donít call them male impersonators. They are character actors. I do the same thing, only I happen to do it as a woman. And not only do I act in that vein, I also sing. Some people still to this day think that I come out and lip-sync. With an orchestra on the stage! They think that Iím using gimmicks, and Iím not.
Q. So why do you
think people insist on calling you a female impersonator?
A. I have no problems in England or Europe, because theyíre so far ahead of us. The only way that Americans can comfortably accept men who wear womenís clothes is to laugh. Itís okay to laugh. But when you do it seriously, itís a whole other road.