Bessie Smith Essay

1043 words - 5 pages

Bessie SmithKnown as the "Empress Of Blues", Bessie Smith was said to have revolutionized the vocal end of Blues Music. She showed a lot of pride as an independent African-American woman. Her style in performance and lyrics often reflected her lifestyle. Bessie Smith was one of the first female jazz artists, and she paved the way for many musicians who followed. Bessie was born April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee to a part time Baptist preacher, William Smith, and his wife Laura. The family was large and poor. Soon after she was born her father died. Laura lived until Bessie was only nine years old. The remaining children had to learn to take care of themselves. Her sister Viola then ...view middle of the document...

Although there is nothing that survives from her very first recording date, the following date she recorded "Gulf Coast Blues" and "Down Hearted Blues". The record sold more than 750,000 copies that year, making her a blues star. She then married Jack McGee in June 1923.In the mid-twenties she toured the entire south and most of the major northern cities, always as the star attraction on the bill. Smith recorded with a number of noted musicians. These included pianists Fletcher Henderson and James P. Johnson, cornetist Louie Armstrong, saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Don Redman, and clarinetist Buster Bailey. Many of her earlier songs featured only a piano accompaniment, which allowed sole focus on Smith's vocals. Yet the songs cut with Armstrong featured the two most prominent black recording artists of the 1920s. They worked off each other's talents and sang too the blues backdrops while keeping the southern roots. In 1929, Smith recorded the haunting "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", a tune blues historian William Barlow called Smith's "...personal epitaph and a depression era classic." She was the highest paid black entertainer and completely booked at $1500 a week. Her more than 150 recordings that followed, some of which sold 100,000 copies in a week, propelled her to fame and immortality during the New Negro movement.. Alberta Hunter stated, "Bessie Smith was the greatest of them all. There never was one like her and there'll never be one like here again. Even though she was raucous and loud, she had sort of a tear - no, not a tear, but there was a misery in what she did. It was as though there was something she had to get out, something she just had to bring fore."By 1930 her career began to fade due to the public's changing musical tastes, mismanagement of her affairs, and her heavy drinking. She had...

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