Bessie Smith

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Bessie Smith (July 9, 1892 or April 15, 1894 — September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer.
The most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, Smith is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era, and along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.

All contemporary accounts indicate that Rainey did not teach Smith to sing, but she probably helped her develop a stage presence.Smith began forming her own act around 1913, at Atlanta’s “81″ Theatre. By 1920 she had established a reputation in the South and along the Eastern Seaboard.

In 1920, sales figures for “Crazy Blues,” an Okeh recording by singer Mamie Smith (no relation) pointed to a new market. The recording industry had never aimed its product at blacks, but now the door had been opened and the search for female blues singers was on. Smith was signed by Columbia Records in 1923 when the label decided to establish a “race records” series.

She scored a big hit with her first release, a coupling of “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Downhearted Blues,” which its composer, Alberta Hunter had already turned into a hit on the Paramount label. Smith became a headliner on the black T.O.B.A. circuit and rose to become its top attraction in the 1920s. Working a heavy theater schedule during the winter months and doing tent tours the rest of the year (eventually traveling in her own railroad car), Smith became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day.Columbia nicknamed her “Queen of the Blues”, but a PR-minded press soon upgraded her title to “Empress”.

She made some 160 recordings for Columbia, often accompanied by the finest musicians of the day, most notably Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Joe Smith, Charlie Green, and Fletcher Henderson.

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Media:

The Bessie Smith Store at Amazon.com

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