Ahead of her performance, Who Wants to Live Forever at The Marlborough, we caught up with writer, director, performer, poet and jazz singer Cheryl Martin behind the one-woman show to find about her love of jazz and what we can expect from the performance.

Who Wants to Live Forever is on the 20th April at 7.30pm. Book tickets here

Could you tell us a little more about yourself and your show?

I’m a black lesbian, originally from Washington DC, who’s lived longer in Manchester now than in the States.  I’ve lived here for 30 years.  I started singing when I was very young, doing the traditional thing of singing with a church choir, though mine was Catholic.   I originally wanted to do a show about why so many of my vocalist heroes, like Billie Holiday, seemed to have such hard lives, and about why people seem to love to watch a Billie or an Amy Winehouse crack apart on stage.  Maybe because singing is so much part of me – I started performing in public with that choir when I was nine – writing about music went much deeper than I anticipated.  Right to what I find hard in my own life and what I find most beautiful – the stars.  The universe.

How did your love of Jazz and Billie Holiday develop?

My father loved jazz and had loads of old records in the house that he used to play.  So I grew up listening to Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, and Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Parker, and Mingus.  Nina Simone’s funny song Forbidden Fruit was a favourite with all of us kids – I’m the oldest of five.  We used to sing it all the time.   So it’s family music, fun music, music that takes me back home.  I had an aunt who sang with a very posh classical choir, and uncles who sang in the church.  I played the flute, and ended up in the DC Youth Orchestra, so I could read music.  And when I started learning to sing, I realised if I wanted to sing “the dots” – the song as written – I should listen to Ella.  But if I wanted to learn how to sing from inside, the way it made me feel, I should listen to Billie, who never sang “the dots”.  I love them both, and you need to understand how the song was originally written before you can play with it.  But I sing from the inside.

Who do you admire in music at the moment?

When I was in university, a friend turned me on to Joni Mitchell, and I love the purity of her voice, and love her tribute album to Mingus.  And I love Cassandra Wilson and wish I were that good.  And I love Bjork. 

Who are your biggest influences?

Musically, probably Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter [who also never sang “the dots”.  In terms of writers, much harder to pin down.  For the past couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot by Ursula K Le Guin, who has only recently died, who wrote speculative fiction – sci-fi.  But her writing feels more in touch with wondering what life means to us than anything else I’ve read.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

It’s funny in a lot of places.  It roams around the stars, and beaches, and it’s really about love.  Not romantic love, exactly, though I do talk about that, but love, definitely.

What’s the most challenging and most exciting part about bringing this show to life?

The most challenging thing was facing and re-living one of the most difficult things that ever happened to me.  I re-live it every time I do the show.  But it’s that part that people most connect to – losing an adored baby brother.  What’s exciting is connecting to the audience on such a deep level – people really react strongly.  A lot of them cry, and some of them talk to me afterwards.  And what’s scary is that I’m all by myself on that stage. 

Though that’s not true – I have wonderful technicians and designers who created and still sustain it for every show, and a good director who have me a solid foundation to stand on, and great producer who makes it all possible. So really I’m never alone.

What makes your show different?

It deals with things people are afraid to talk about.  Bereavement.  And it does it by way of a lot of singing and travelling – from camping in Brittany to the deepest point in the oceans.  And it’s not an A-Z sort of journey.

When did you first perform?

When I was nine, with my church choir.  St. Margaret’s, back in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. 

Why did you choose to perform at The Marlborough?

I met Tarik from The Marlborough at the Edinburgh Festival, and I learned what a different, open, inclusive sort of theatre it is from him.  And I jumped at the chance to come see for myself.

Who Wants to Live Forever is on the 20th April at 7.30pm. Book tickets here

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