Bessie Smith

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Bessie Smith was one of the most popular and successful female blues singers of the 1920’s and 1930’s. She was an important influence on other singers such as Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simons and Janis Joplin. Bessie’s heart wrenching blues expressed the harsh realities experienced by the black underclass in this era.
Bessie Smith was born in Tennessee in April 1894, born one of seven children and into poverty. Her father who was a Baptist died soon after her birth. Around 1906 Bessie’s mother and two brothers died leaving her and her other four siblings to be raised by their aunt. At this time Bessie and her younger brother began to perform of the streets with Bessie singing and her brother accompanying her on guitar.
In 1912
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This was the same year she was discovered by Columbia Records, she signed a contract with them a recorded her first ever song with them. With the song “Downhearted Blues” she soon became one of the highest paid black artists of her day, it sold 800,000 copied. She made 160 recordings in all.
Bessie Smiths subject matter was classic material of the blues, poverty, oppression, love, betrayal, and acceptance of defeat at the hands of the cruel and indifferent world.
During her very successful career Bessie worked with many great jazz performers such as saxophonist Sidney Bechet, pianist James P. Johnson and pianist Fletcher Henderson. With Johnson, Bessie recorded one of her famous songs “Backwater Blues”. She also worked with the very famous jazz artist Louis Armstrong on several tracks including “Cold in Hand Blues” and “I Ain’t Got No Second Fiddle”. Her popularity with black and white audiences led her to be nicknamed the Empress of
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Form here Bessie shifter her performances from blues into something that fit the swing era. The swing band she performed with had members such as trombonist Jack Teagarden, trumpeter Frankie Newton, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, pianist Buck Washington, guitarist Bobby Johnson and bassist Billy Taylor. This band recorded such songs as “Take Me for a Buggy Ride” and “Gimme a Pig foot (And a Bottle of Beer)” and both songs continued to be ranked her most popular.
On September 26th, 1937 as Bessie Smith and a friend were driving to a performance there car was involved in an accident. Bessie was severely injured and later died in hospital
At the highest point in her career Bessie Smith sold more recordings and earned more money than any other blues performer. A lot of her songs were written about abuse, lost lovers, female rivalry and jealousy, voodoo and race relations. Bessie unapologetically redefined the blues and it was the strength just below the sadness of her songs that would influence singers like Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. In 1989Bessie Smith was introduces into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under the category of Early Influences.
Known in her lifetime as the Empress of Blues, Bessie was a bold, confident artist whose expression in her songs stated the frustration and hope of a whole generation of black
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