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One of the don't-miss performances of the Festival programme is The New Blue, about New Zealand's very first pop star, Pixie Williams. Her no.1 hit was ‘Blue Smoke’ in 1949, which was the very first song to be recorded and manufactured in New Zealand and went straight to no.1 for six weeks. Pixie never wanted to be a popstar, but her smooth and velvety voice had strong appeal, especially with the Hawaiian-style guitars. Over the next few years, she recorded more songs, including one about Saddle Hill, because even though she grew up in Mohaka in Hawke's Bay, she lived most her life in Dunedin. But then, as quickly as she appeared, it seemed that Pixie disappeared from the public eye.
The New Blue is a concert of Pixie’s songs with a full backing band. It’s been pulled together by Dunedin-born Riki Gooch (ex-drummer for Trinity Roots). “Pixie had a real love of singing, but she didn’t like the attention. She became a household name but didn’t want the limelight.” The New Blue tells the story of Pixie’s bright and quick career, with three singers – Kirsten Te Rito, Rachel Fraser and Lisa Tomlins taking turns to narrate and sing. They aren't the first to do covers of Pixie's songs. Dean Martin did a version of Blue Smoke in 1951. It was perfect for his languid style.
In 2019, Pixie was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame at the APRA Silver Scroll Awards, alongside Ruru Karaitiana, who wrote Blue Smoke, and Jim Carter, who gave it its distinctive Hawaiian sound. "If there is a "big bang" moment in New Zealand’s music history, it was made by the gentlest of melodies" said New Zealand music historian Chris Bourke, who wrote the book, Blue Smoke: the Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music, 1918-1964.
The New Blue has been workshopped over the last few years in preparation for its world premiere at Dunedin Arts Festival. There’s also an album, The New Blue, due for release in early April 2021.