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.

Bibliography

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 ?
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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.