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Bessie Smith


Bessie Smith Vol 1

Bessie Smith Vol 2

Bessie Smith Vol 3

Bessie Smith Vol 4

Bessie Smith Vol 5
Artist Description

Accounts vary as to her birth with some citing it as Memphis Tennessee in the late 1890s and others as 15 April 1894, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her parents died early in her childhood and thereby this Blues legend acquired the hard way the credentials that would perhaps determine her path and bring her success. Her early grounding in music was as a street singer and led to her ‘discovery’ by the famed Ma Rainey in 1912. For a while they worked together and Bessie developed her voice to a powerful, rich, earthy tone as they toured and sang across the land. By the 1920s her Blues singing was becoming appreciated by a wider audience and record companies who were developing ‘race records’ with the African American audience in mind though they might have some success with her. She cut some tracks in early 1923 with Columbia records. Her first release “Down Hearted Blues” was an amazing success selling over two million copies and projecting her into the forefront of the Blues. It also brought the accolade of being its highest paid entertainer on a staggering (for the early 20s) $1,500 a week playing to whites as well as blacks and not just in the South but the northern states too. She was tough and ruthless in pursuit of what she wanted and able to work with luminous contemporaries – as long as she was clearly seen to be in charge. . “St Louis Blues” her recording with Louis Armstrong is considered by many to be a classic and the jazz record of the 20s. She sang on it and surprisingly Louis didn’t or perhaps wasn’t allowed too. She was liberated decades before it became fashionable. She could hold her own with any man or woman and regularly got into fights fuelled by bouts of drinking, preferably home made gin. Various tales are told of her using her fists very effectively to get her points across. She agreed once to cut a few sides with that other Blues notable Clara Smith. The records still survive. Unfortunately the relationship didn’t. It ended in a physical fight with Clara much the worse for it. During her career Bessie recorded over 150 songs through the Jazz age and up to the Depression. In 1933 Bessie Smith all six feet and 200pounds was about to make her last recording. But already her peak was behind her as it had in essence been since 1928. An only appearance for the movies in the 1929 ‘St Louis Blues’ couldn’t re-ignite the hunger of the national audience for her mainly slow tempo blues. Alcoholism was taking its toll both professionally and personally. The Blues too were taking a back seat now to Swing. Ironically one of the backing musicians on that last session was the soon to be ‘King Of Swing’ Mr Benny Goodman. She continued to tour and was still warmly accepted but it was evident that fashions were changing and the Big Band sound was more and more the peoples' choice. By September 1937 Bessie was determined to make the crossover from Blues to Swing but whether she would have made that another success we shall never know. The day before returning to New York, whilst driven by her boyfriend manager, she was involved in a late night car accident and died shortly after from wounds including the loss of an arm. The Empress Of the Blues was gone but her music lives on.