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Bessie Wapp is Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador for 2015

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
December 12th, 2014

Singer, actor, and director Bessie Wapp was named as Nelson’s official Cultural Ambassador for 2015 on Monday night.

“Whether it’s Bessie on stage or Bessie at the microphone,” says Anne DeGrace, 2013’s cultural ambassador, “the hairs on my arms inevitably stand up at some point in the performance. She has that effect on me—and not just on me, clearly. Not only is Bessie tremendously creative and talented, she’s also generous with her time, mentoring and supporting other individuals and groups. Bessie is an excellent choice for Cultural Ambassador.”

Last year’s ambassador, film maker Amy Bohigian, agrees.

“Bessie is the only person I know,” says Amy, “who can get you up dancing to her music on a Friday night, make you laugh uncontrollably in a theatre performance on Saturday night and then bring you to tears in a moving solo on Sunday afternoon – all in the same weekend. She’s a real marvel that way – a master of so many creative trades.

“Bessie sparks so many artistic fires with her love of music and passionate performances, not just for her audiences, but for those of us lucky enough to collaborate with her or call her our teacher.”

A busy and generous musician

Bessie’s recent musical projects include leading her band Bessie and the Back Eddies, performing with the Balkan Brass Band and the Oxygen Orchestar, and as a guest vocalist with Clinton Swanson and Friends. She is also a teacher of blues singing.

The award was presented by Nelson’s cultural development officer Joy Barrett in front of about 200 people at the inaugural meeting of the new city council at the Prestige Inn. The presentation is shown in the video above, which was made by Amy Bohigian for the City.

“Bessie’s upcoming projects,” Barrett said, “include a tour of This Little Piggy, a folk opera created in collaboration with Calgary’s Old Puppet Workshop, and in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a Black Productions and Selkirk college production that will premiere in Nelson this February.”

Bessie’s acceptance speech

Bessie was out of the country when the award was presented, but she appeared via video and presented the following message:

As artists, we hope that the pleasure and meaning we experience through our artistic activity is valued by the larger community. The fact that the City of Nelson chooses a cultural ambassador each year is a fantastic way to celebrate and highlight the work of artists. That the committee has chosen to bestow this award on me, I take as a very great honour. If there is anything our community has, it is a wealth of skilled and talented musicians.

I want to send my love and appreciation out to the musical community, my fellow players, the listeners, the dancers, the promoters, presenters and supporters, and especially the members of the committee for choosing me from what must have been a very long list of worthy candidates.

May 2015 be a year full of melody, rhythm, harmony, peace and joy for all of Nelson, and may our support for the arts be an example beyond our city limits, that cultivating creative expression results in mysterious, mind expanding, heart opening, life affirming, magical mojo.

Bessie then sang a song in Yiddish from the 1940s called Melody (seen on the video).

More than a musician

Each year’s ambassadorship focuses on one area of the arts, this year’s being music.

But Bessie Wapp is a masterful actor as well, and is known in Nelson for her one-woman show Hello I Must be Going, which explored the stories of five generations of women from the Wapp family who were affected by war.

She has also had featured roles in many local productions including Jesus Christ Superstar, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and KHAOS.

Past cultural ambassadors

Nelson’s cultural ambassadorship was initiated in 2009, with the Corazón Youth Ensemble as the first recipient. Since then, writer Anne DeGrace, actor Lucas Myers, fabric artist Angelika Werth, filmmaker Amy Bohigian, and dancer Hiromoto Ida have received the award, which comes with a $1000 prize.

The cultural ambassador’s job, Barrett told the audience is to “represent and promote the city in their travels, increasing the visibility and cultural reputation of Nelson.”


Bill Metcalfe is a freelance journalist who covers Nelson City Hall for The Nelson Daily. To receive a regular twice-monthly email with links to his most recent city hall stories, send a request notification to

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