Bessie Smith

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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 biography by 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 ?
Bessie Smith, "The Empress of the Blues," began in the Rabbit Foot minstrelsy troupe, as did jazz great LouisJordan.
Washington, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Elijah Muhammad, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin (to list a relative handful of those mentioned) mix with those of Coltrane, Sun Ra, Davis, and Monk.
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Fellow headliners include US Soul Jazz greats Davina and the Vagabonds, their music is a sublime mix of Amy Winehouse, Etta James, Bessie Smith and Fats Domino.
In the early 1920s, Ma Rainey, billed as "Mother of the Blues," toured the country, sang for Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins, mentored Bessie Smith, another early blues singer, and recorded more than 100 songs with Paramount Records.
She began singing as a teenage busker, honing her vocal and guitar skills on city streets, where she moulded her style on the cornerstones of jazz, being greatly influenced by the unique sounds of icons such as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong.
Packing a hipflask full of Bessie Smith, Patsy Cline and soul-studded country blues, the talented singer /songwriter is here to take your breath away.
Maybe it's the fact she reminds some of former greats such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, or it could be the fact that her albums Careless Love and Bare Bones just manage to transport the listener to another place free of the recession.
Mariam's skin-prickling vocal expressions invoke vintage blues performers like Bessie Smith.
Melly asked to be buried in a "suitably decorated" cardboard coffin after a non-religious ceremony featuring a recording of The St Louis Blues, by Bessie Smith.