A Few Good Men: Musicians Play the Blues With Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

By Karu F. Daniels
14 Aug 2014

Audra McDonald with Shelton Becton
Audra McDonald with Shelton Becton
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Meet the men behind the music at Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: Shelton Becton, Clayton Craddock and George Farmer.


It's been said that "Behind every great man is a great woman," but in the case of Tony Award-winning superwoman Audra McDonald there are three musicians backing her in the history making role of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: musical conductor Shelton Becton, drummer Clayton Craddock and bass player George Farmer portray the musicians accompanying one of jazz music's most iconic figures during her final live performances.

It's no mystery that to get a show to go well on The Great White Way, a lot of moving pieces are assembled. And although actors, singers, choreographers, directors and even playwrights get a lot of light shone upon them, there are hundreds of other players whose hard work goes unrecognized.

In Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill — currently playing at Broadway's Circle In the Square Theatre — history was not only made when McDonald won her record sixth Tony Award earlier this year. History is being retold continually thanks to Lanie Robertson's enduring story which reveals a more complex, raucous and raw look at Billie Holiday after her star started to fade.

And a story about the legendary "God Bless The Child" singer/songwriter can't be told without music playing a major part.

During performances of this play with music, Becton, Craddock and Farmer are not tucked away hidden in the pit playing their instruments; they are on the stage and behind the lights with McDonald throughout.

Becton, who plays the role of Jimmy Powers, Holiday's musical director, has been working Broadway behind the scenes for the past decade in shows such as The Color Purple, Memphis and Baby It's You!. Getting to shine as an actor (of sorts) — for the first time ever — is much more than the Gibson, NC native bargained for. "I've become a part of the show, which was not my original intent, but it has stretched me and has made me grow as an artist and I appreciate the opportunity," he said in a recent interview.


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