Frank Bey: When You Ask Me



An aging blues singer returns to the stage 17 years after music broke his heart. Frank Bey’s incredible journey reaches a climactic year as he overcomes the loss of his backing band to record his dream album in Nashville. 

Not many films get to share the day to day labor and love of a musician who makes a living with his craft while remaining widely unkown. Most poignantly, it portrays the life of one working, African-American man finding his place and voice in the world. 

Frank Bey’s resilience, accomplishments, and patience bring a necessary addition to our stories of success, revealing systemic boundaries around wealth, age, race, disability, and place while shining a clear light on the ways we can find and celebrate a way through.

Marie Hinson, Director, Director of Photography, Writer 

A cinematographer and artist originally from the mountains of Appalachia, Marie moved to Philadelphia for an MFA in Temple University’s film program. In addition to freelance work for film, commercial and corporate clients, she is an instructor at Scribe Video Center and a member of the Vox Populi artist collective. Her solo and collaborative work has shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Crane Arts, RAIR, Pilot Projects, as well as Frameline, Montreal Underground, BlackStar, Athens International, and Hollyshorts festivals. 

Thomas Daniel Dwyer, Executive Producer, Writer 

Tom taught public high school English in suburban Philadelphia for 35 years and college English, simultaneously, for 10 years at Drexel University, using music, acting, and film extensively in both settings. Tom studied acting for 5 years after retiring from the classroom in 2006, appearing in two staged musicals, more than 20 student film productions, and in 4 feature films, including 2 Hollywood productions. He has studied classical and folk guitar as well as Irish bouzouki. Tom has sung the classical and popular repertoire with The Philly Pops Festival Chorus as well as folk, holiday and popular classics in different venues and configurations.

Director’s Statement

I also grew up in a rural area, far from any vision of who I could be as an artist and person. A conservative community in Appalachia was not a place I could survive. Like Frank I found my people and most importantly myself in Philadelphia. During our two and a half years of production, I made a huge personal leap, coming out as trans and non-binary. Frank of course accepted me and affirmed me immediately. 

What grows with me personally and with this project is telling stories about the power that comes from finding and standing in one’s voice in the world. I’m curious to talk about the boundaries that keep us from that place, but also the mysterious, miraculous ways we find our way through. Frank and I have resonated with each other’s passion for this journey. 

Our film presents a different picture of success from many music documentaries. Frank is a star. That fact is undeniable when we see him on stage with an audience in the palm of his hand. In the studio in Nashville, his singing stuns and impresses some of the best musicians in the business. But then he returns to his two room apartment in Philadelphia and agonizes over not having the money to sustain a band. 

For most people watching the film, this will be their introduction to Frank. As a genre music documentaries often deal with household names, success in mythic proportions, and known, shared events. We get to tell a special and bold story — success and stardom are essentially human, humble, accessible, personal, and powerful. 

Frank’s music and artistic sensibility don’t fit neatly into a mass music market. We see him transform intimate shows with a cross-genre blend of rock, blues, soul, old RnB, and adult contemporary. But for an aging African-American musician without an already known name, he makes his living and gets his music out in a blues niche. That niche doesn’t often break through to the money and recognition of the popular mainstream. 

Frank is also someone who lives with significant health disability. He has lived with the effects of kidney disease since the 90s. Managing the care around this, dialysis, a transplant, and all of the meds is a full time and expensive job. Why should people who are aging, poor, or living with disability be diminished and excluded from our culture? 

In every verite scene not only do we get the dramatic conflict, but also the real, inescapable manifestations of these bigger contexts. Most importantly facing these obstacles requires labor — physical, emotional, spiritual, and creative. Frank shows a profound patience and lack of bitterness in consciously and practically engaging these obstacles, making the labor all the more evident. The underlying question in our film is what to do with the cost of that labor in body and soul, to ourselves, our communities and to our world.