Terrence Howard is coming out of acting retirement. Less than a year since the Empire actor announced he was retiring, he is making his directorial debut with Delta Blues. Howard will star in the film as well alongside Evan Ross.
Howard has signed on for the pilot of Delta Blues, a one-hour drama based on true events that chronicle the story of W.C. Handy, sometimes referred to as the Father of the Blues.
The story begins in 1903 in the Mississippi Delta, a land wounded from a Civil War that freed slaves only to shackle them once more under Jim Crow. That’s where W.C. Handy first heard the rhythmic strains of a lone bluesman at a train depot in Tutwiler, MS. At the time, minstrel shows were the main form of popular entertainment, and Handy led one of the most famous troupes, Mahara’s Minstrels. But Handy soon would discover new African-American folk music echoing across the cotton fields, prisons and watering holes of the Mississippi Delta. And when a black Masonic group, the Knights of Pythias, asks him to lead its brass band, Handy quits the Minstrels and moves to the Delta.
It is then the classically trained Handy begins to document, perform and publish the music that would become known as the blues. By altering melody lines, changing words and musical notations of the songs he composes, Handy makes old materials new and seemingly his own. In 1914, he becomes world-famous with his No. 1 hit, “Saint Louis Blues.” Having amassed an excess of material from his fellow Delta musicians, Handy settles in New York and eventually builds a copyrighting and publishing empire.
But as the blues permeates the white culture, Handy becomes tormented by his own success, as he watches one friend after another ruined through the usual devices: digging ditches, picking cotton, drunken knife fights, racist nooses or prison – and sometimes a little bit of everything. Compounding his tribulations are fellow artists who accuse him of selling out, working for the white man and, perhaps worst of all, stealing their music without sharing in the fame or financial bounty.
Neither Howard nor Ross will play Handy. Their roles have yet to be disclosed.
While this news is great, it is a bit surprising as the actor proclaimed he was done acting. However, he said that the script was “better than bacon,” and it forced him to change his mind. “I was done. But I am putting retirement on hold to tell this story.”
When it comes to telling Handy’s story, Howard says that this “story is about our history and has to be handled very carefully. I am committed to telling the truths of the times, even the uncomfortable truths.”
Zero Gravity Management will executive produce the television drama.