Bessie Smith

The Empress of Blues

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga Tennessee on April 15 1894. She was orphaned at the age of nine at was raised by her older brothers and sisters. She began to perform on the streets for money. By the age of 18 Bessie Smith wanted to go on tour. She was very popular black vaudeville circuit when her first records were coming out, though she made little money from royalties her performances would sell. The ticket sales made her the richest female African American Singer. Unfortunately in the 1930s her career stalled due to the Great Depression and the popularity of Jazz and the decline of blues. Finally at the end of the 1930s she began to record and perform again. Bessie Smith died in 1937 in a awful car crash that severed her arm historians are not sure if Bessie died because a doctor refused to look at her because he was tending to a white couple who were just scraped. Other historians think she died when an ambulance could not take her to a white hospital. Now it is clear that her injuries were so severe she would not have lived even if she made it to the hospital.


Bessie Smith became a symbol of the black renaissance and American toughness after she was stabbed in the chest after her show chased the attacker and then taking herself to the hospital. Only to do a show the next night. Her fans called her the Empress of Blues

Down Hearted Blues

Down Hearted Blues is important because it was the first record she had made and one of the most famous. That one album sold 800,000 copies ensuring that Bessie Smith was well known and famous
Bessie Smith (Down Hearted Blues, 1923) Jazz Legend

Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton Comparison

Big Mama Thornton sounds a lot like Bessie Smith. She has the big powerful voice like Bessie Smith. The music is also very similar in the way that is written all around her voice.
Big Mama Thornton 1970