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Bessie Smith Cultural Center gets donation from Atlanta-based KaZee Inc

A $25,000 donation from Atlanta-based KaZee Inc. will be used to help the Bessie Smith Cultural Center here update communications technology to keep the public aware of its activities that have been negatively impacted by the virus pandemic.

The 37-year-old non-profit institution, which is dedicated to Chattanooga’s African American history from the Civil War to the present, and is the only history museum in Chattanooga, has been shuttered since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re very grateful to KaZee for generously responding to us, particularly since the COVID pandemic has forced us to close our doors, thus cutting off our sources of revenue from admissions and special events,” says Paula Wilkes, the museum’s president.

KaZee founder and CEO Albert Woodard is a native of Chattanooga and one of 10 prominent African Americans honored by the Center on its Wall of Distinction. He explains: “It is important to future generations that we record and display the contributions and history of Chattanooga’s black community. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center provides a balanced historical perspective as well as an educational venue for arts and the exchange of ideas.”

Woodard is also a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In 2012 he was named one of the 50 Most Important African Americans in Technology at a ceremony in Washington, DC. KaZee is a Georgia and Tennessee corporation with its principle places of business in Dalton and Atlanta, GA.

Located at 200 East M.L. King Boulevard in an area originally known as Chattanooga’s black enterprise zone, the center is named after late locally-born singer Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues,” the entertainer responsible for the financial success of Columbia Records in the 1920’s.

Mrs. Wilkes explained that the virus pandemic has had a severe impact on the center, which traditionally attracts an average of 1,000 visitors a month including school tours. The virus has forced the center to curtail special events and private functions in its 17,000 square-foot facility and lawn area. “Facility rentals attract thousands of individuals for corporate, educational and other group events, but that revenue has been lost due to the virus pandemic,” she explains.

Prior to the pandemic the center employed up to 10 people. Since its closure, the workforce is down to six people.

The daily flow of admission fees that range from seven dollars for adults and five dollars for children and seniors, has also come to a halt until the virus pandemic ends, putting a major dent in the facility’s revenues which are normally $400,000 annually.

“The one bright spot is that the shutdown – combined with KaZee’s contribution – will provide us an opportunity to update our museum technology to help us better tell our story and attract larger numbers of visitors in the future when we reopen,” says Mrs. Wilkes.

About The Bessie Smith Cultural Center
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, commonly known as “The Bessie”, is an institution designed to preserve and celebrate African American history and culture through art, education, research, and entertainment. For more information go to www.bessiesmithcc.org