Bessie Smith

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.
Related to Bessie Smith: Billie Holiday

Smith, Bessie,

1894–1937, American singer, b. Chattanooga, Tenn. About 1910 Smith became the protégée of Gertrude (Ma) Rainey, one of the earliest blues singers. After working in traveling shows she went to New York City, where she made (1923–28) recordings, accompanied by such outstanding artists as Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and James P. Johnson. She quickly became the favorite singer of the jazz public. The power and somber beauty of her voice, coupled with songs representing every variety of the blues, earned her the title "Empress of the Blues." Around 1928, changing popular taste and her growing alcoholism led to a decline in her popularity. Though she continued to tour, her last years were embittered. She died after an automobile accident while on tour in Mississippi, the circumstances of which are discussed in Edward Albee's play The Death of Bessie Smith (1960). Numerous critics regarded her as the greatest of all jazz artists, and her fame increased enormously after her death.


See biographies by P. Oliver (1961) and C. Albertson (rev. ed. 2003).

Smith, Bessie

(1895–1937) vocalist; born in Chattanooga, Tenn. Beginning her career in the minstrel show of her mentor, Ma Rainey, between 1923–33 she toured extensively throughout the U.S.A. and recorded prolifically. Known as "Empress of the Blues," she established prototypes for both classic female blues singing and the hard-lived life associated with it.
References in periodicals archive ?
Like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday also expressed this bitterness, especially when she mounted the stage to perform "Strange Fruit.
We picked wild blackberries, cooked turtle soup and shad roe, and listened to Bessie Smith.
Rowling and music legends Patsy Cline and Bessie Smith.
Bessie examines the life and music of Bessie Smith, the most famous blues singer of the 1920s, and arguably the most successful and influential African American artist of the decade as well.
Barnet presents the lives and works of women poets, artists, singers, writers, and entrepreneurs such as Mina Loy, Isadora Duncan, Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Marianne Moore, Bessie Smith, and A'Lelia Walker through their own words and images as well as through Barnet's lively commentary.
Memphis Minnie ranks with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton as one of the blues' most influential and historically significant female artists.
Dorsey, soul crooner Sam Cooke, Motown chief Berry Gordy, blues empress Bessie Smith, soul sister supreme Aretha Franklin, funkmaster George Clinton, among others.
Consider The Georgia Crackers, Miller's backing band from his 1928 sessions for New York's Okeh label, There is Eddie Lang, "the first great jazz guitarist," who performed with luminaries such as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
Instead, Toure goes on to link Kemetic goddesses and queens to a continuum of such African American wome n artists and activists as Bessie Smith, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gladys Knight, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Audley Moore, and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Read about Bessie Smith, Judy Garland, Joan Baez, Bette Midler and Madonna.
He included his amusing play-on-words duet Pas de Duke for Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov, as well as The Mooche, a touching suite of dances based on Ellington's tone portraits of female performers Florence Mills, Mahalia Jackson, Marie Bryant and Bessie Smith.
Have a hot cup of java while listening to some jazz, gospel or blues at Chattanooga's Bessie Smith Hall (200 MLK Blvd.