Bessie Smith – the Fabulous Blues Vocalist

Bessie Smith was known as “Empress of the Blues.” Born in the late 1800s in

Tennessee, Smith began her singing career at a young age, and was taken on by Columbia Records in 1923. She rapidly became one of the world’s highest earning African-American musicians, and although her popularity waned, she still released new recordings and carried out performances after the new wave of swing music arrived on the scene.

Smith, lost her father when she was a young child, and so her mother was tasked with raising her and her six siblings alone. Tragically, in 1906, her mother passed away, as did two of her brothers, leaving Smith and her family to be raised by their aunt. In order to help the family’s dire financial situation, together with one of her brothers who played guitar, Smith started singing for people in the street. This went on until 1912, when she was offered a place dancing in a minstrel show, after which she moved on to join the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. This ensemble included Ma Rainey, the famous blues vocalist. Smith found a formidable mentor in Rainey, and for the following ten years, Smith successfully performed at countless vaudeville theatres across the US.

Once the early 1920s arrived, Smith had become a resident of Philadelphia, where she was enjoying life. While there, she started dated Jack Gee, whom she later married. In the same year, 1923, a Columbia Record’s agent discovered Smith, and she was signed up to their record label. One of her famous tracks for Columbia was “Downhearted Blues,” which skyrocketed her to fame.

Very sadly, Smith passed away at an early age due to a car accident in Mississippi, in 1937. She led a very colourful life, and had many ups and downs, but ultimately, she brought great pleasure to millions worldwide, and her recordings still live on today. Her rich powerful voice will never be forgotton.

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