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Bessie Smith was a rough, crude, violent woman. She was also the greatest of the classic Blues singer of the 1920s. Bessie started out as a street musican in Chattanooga. In 1912 Bessie joined a traveling show as a dancer and singer. The show featured Pa and Ma Rainey, and Smith developed a friendship with Ma. Ma Rainey was Bessie's mentor and she stayed with her show until 1915. Bessie then joined the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit and gradually built up her own following in the south and along the eastern seaboard. By the early 1920s she was one of the most popular Blues singers in vaudeville. In 1923 she made her recording debut on Columbia, accompanied by pianist Clarence Williams. They recorded "Gulf Coast Blues" and "Down Hearted Blues." The record sold more than 750,000 copies that same year, rivaling the success of Blues singer Mamie Smith (no relation). Throughout the 1920s Smith recorded with many of the great Jazz musicians of that era, including Fletcher Henderson, James P. Johnson, Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman, and Louis Armstrong. Her rendition of "St. Louis Blues" with Armstrong is considered by most critics to be one of finest recordings of the 1920s. Bessie Smith was one of the biggest stars of the 1920s and was popular with both Whites and African Americans, but by 1931 the Classic Blues style of Bessie Smith was out of style and the Depression, radio, and sound movies had all damaged the record companies ability to sell records and Columbia dropped Smith from its roster. In 1933 she recorded for the last time under the direction of John Hammond for Okeh. The session was released under the name of Bessie Smith accompanied by Buck and his Band. Despite having no record company Smith was still very popular in the South and continued to draw large crowds, although the money was not nearly as good as it had been in the 1920s. Bessie had started to style herself as a Swing musician and was on the verge of a come back when her life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in 1937. While driving with her lover Richard Morgan (Lionel Hampton's uncle) in Mississippi their car rear-ended a slow moving truck and rolled over crushing Smith's left arm and ribs. Smith bled to death by the time she reached the hospital. John Hammond caused quite a stir by writing an article in Downbeat magazine suggesting that Smith had bleed to death because she had been taken to a White hospital and had been turned away. This proved not to be true, but the rumour persists to this day.

Bessie Smith accompanied by her Down Home Trio
Bessie Smith accompanied by Henderson's Hot Six
Bessie Smith accompanied by Buck and his Band
Bessie Smith and her Band Bessie Smith and her Blue Boys
Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
Aggravatin' Papa
(Roy Turk / J. Russell Robinson / A. Britt)
4-11-1923 New York, New York Columbia
A Good Man Is Hard To Find
(Eddie Green)
9-27-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Any Woman's Blues
(Lovie Austin)
10-16-1923 New York, New York Columbia
At The Christmas Ball
(Fred Longshaw)
11-18-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Baby Doll
(Bessie Smith / H. Webman)
5-4-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Baby Have Pity On Me
(Clarence Williams / B. Moll)
4-12-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Baby Won't You Please Come Home
(Clarence Williams / C. Warfield)
4-11-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Back-Water Blues
(Bessie Smith)
2-17-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Beale Street Mama
(Roy Turk / J. Russell Robinson)
4-11-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Black Mountain Blues
(H. Cole)
7-22-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Bleeding Hearted Blues
(Lovie Austin)
6-14-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Blue Blues
(Bessie Smith)
6-11-1931 New York, New York Columbia
Blue Spirit Blues
(Spencer Williams)
10-11-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Bowevil Blues
(Ma Rainey / Lovie Austin)
4-7-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Careless Love Blues (1)
(W.C. Handy)
5-26-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Careless Love Blues (2)
(W.C. Handy)
5-26-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Cemetery Blues
(S. Laney / Spencer Williams)
9-26-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Chicago Bound Blues
(Lovie Austin)
12-4-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Cold In Hand Blues
(Jack Gee / Fred Longshaw)
1-14-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Devil's Gonna Git You
(Porter Grainger)
8-24-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Dirty No-Gooder's Blues
(Bessie Smith)
10-1-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Dixie Flyer Blues
(Bessie Smith)
5-15-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Don't Cry Baby
(S. Unger / S. Bernie / J. Johnson)
10-11-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Down Hearted Blues
(Alberta Hunter / Lovie Austin)
2-16-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Dyin' By The Hour
(G. Brooks)
10-27-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Dying Gambler's Blues
(Jack Gee)
12-13-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Easy Come Easy Go Blues
(W. Jackson / E. Brown)
1-10-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Empty Bed Blues (Part 1)
(J.C. Johnson)
3-20-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Empty Bed Blues (Part 2)
(J.C. Johnson)
3-20-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Evesdropper's Blues
(J.C. Johnson)
1-9-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Far Away Blues
(Duet with Clara Smith)

(G. Brooks)
10-4-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Florida Bound Blues
(Clarence Williams)
11-17-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Follow The Deal On Down
(Tom Delaney)
12-11-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Foolish Man Blues
(Bessie Smith)
10-27-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Frankie Blues
(E. Johnson)
4-8-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Frosty Morining Blues
(E. Brown)
1-8-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Golden Rule Blues
(Bessie Smith)
11-20-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Graveyard Dream Blues
(Ida Cox)
9-26-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Gulf Coast Blues
(Clarence Williams)
2-16-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Hard Driving Papa
(G. Brooks)
5-4-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Hard Time Blues
(Bessie Smith)
10-25-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Hateful Blues
(E. Johnson)
4-8-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Haunted House Blues
(J.C. Johnson)
1-9-1924 New York, New York Columbia
He's Gone Blues
(Bessie Smith)
6-23-1925 New York, New York Columbia
He's Got Me Goin'
(H. Gray)
8-20-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Homeless Blues
(Porter Grainger)
9-28-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Honey Man Blues
(G. Brooks)
10-25-1926 New York, New York Columbia
House Rent Blues
(T. Wallace)
7-23-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Hustlin' Dan
(J. Crawford)
7-22-1930 New York, New York Columbia
I Aint' Goin' To Play No Second Fiddle
(Perry Bradford)
5-27-1925 New York, New York Columbia
I'd Rather Be Dead And Buried In My Grave
(P. Fuller)
2-16-1928 New York, New York Columbia
If You Don't Know Who Will?
(Clarence Williams / Chris Smith / Tim Brymn)
6-21-1923 New York, New York Columbia
I Got What It Takes (But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away)
(Clarence Williams / H. Jenkins)
5-15-1929 New York, New York Columbia
I'm Going Back To My Used To Be
(Duet with Clara Smith)

(J. Cox)
10-4-1923 New York, New York Columbia
I'm Wild About That Thing
(Spencer Williams)
5-8-1929 New York, New York Columbia
In The House Blues
(Bessie Smith)
6-11-1931 New York, New York Columbia
It Makes My Love Come Down
(Bessie Smith)
8-20-1929 New York, New York Columbia
It Won't Be You
(Bessie Smith)
2-21-1928 New York, New York Columbia
I Want Ev'ry Bit Of It
(Clarence Williams / Spencer Williams)
3-5-1926 New York, New York Columbia
I Used To Be Your Sweet Mama
(L. Miller / Fred Longshaw)
2-9-1928 New York, New York Columbia
I've Been Mistreated And I Don't Like It
(Fred Longshaw)
11-18-1925 New York, New York Columbia
I've Got What It Takes
(Clarence Williams / H. Jenkins)
5-15-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Jail-House Blues
(Bessie Smith / Clarence Williams)
9-21-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town
(G. Brooks)
3-18-1926 New York, New York Columbia
J.C. Holmes Blues
(G. Horsley)
5-27-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Keep It To Yourself
(Clarence Williams)
3-27-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Keeps On A Rainin' (Papa, He Can't Make No Time)
(Spencer Williams / M Kortlander)
4-26-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Kitchen Man
(Andy Razaf / A. Bellenda)
5-8-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Lady Luck Blues
(W. Weber / Clarence Williams)
6-14-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Lock And Key
(Henry Creamer / James P. Johnson)
1-4-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Lonesome Desert Blues
(Bessie Smith)
12-9-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Long Old Road
(Bessie Smith)
6-11-1931 New York, New York Columbia
Looking For My Man Blues 9-28-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Lost Your Head Blues
(Bessie Smith)
5-4-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Lou'siana Low Down Blues
(Spencer Williams)
7-22-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Love Me Dady Blues
(L. Longshaw)
12-12-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Mamas Got The Blues
(Sarah Martin / Clarence Williams)
4-28-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Mean Old Bed Bug Blues
(L. Wood)
9-27-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Me And My Gin
(H. Burke)
8-25-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Midnight Blues
(B. Thompson / Spencer Williams)
6-15-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Mistreatin' Daddy
(Porter Grainger / Bob Ricketts)
12-4-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Moan Mourners
(Spencer Williams)
6-9-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Money Blues
(D.K. Leader / H. Eller)
5-4-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Moonshine Blues
(Ma Rainey)
4-9-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Mountaintop Blues
(Spencer Williams)
7-22-1924 New York, New York Columbia
My Man Blues
(Duet with Clara Smith)

(Bessie Smith)
9-1-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Nashville Woman's Blues (1)
(Fred Longshaw)
5-26-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Nashville Woman's Blues (2)
(Fred Longshaw)
5-26-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl
(Clarence Williams / D. Small / Tim Brymn)
11-20-1931 New York, New York Columbia
New Gulf Coast Blues
(Clarence Williams )
11-17-1925 New York, New York Columbia
New Orleans Hop Scop Blues
(G.W. Thomas)
3-27-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Nobody In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine
(Clarence Williams / Spencer Williams)
6-22-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
(Jimmy Cox)
5-15-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Oh Daddy Blues
(E. Herbert / W. Russell)
4-11-1923 New York, New York Columbia
One And Two Blues
(G. Brooks)
10-26-1926 New York, New York Columbia
On Revival Day (A Rhythmic Spiritual)
(Andy Razaf)
6-9-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Outside Of That
(J.H. Trent / Clarence Williams)
4-28-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Pickpocket Blues
(Bessie Smith)
2-9-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Pinchbacks - Take "Em Away
(Bessie Smith / I. Johns)
4-4-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Please Help Me Get Him Off My Mind
(Bessie Smith)
8-25-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Poorman's Blues
(Bessie Smith)
8-24-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Preachin' The Blues
(Bessie Smith)
2-17-1927 New York, New York Columbia
Put It Right Here (Or Keep It Out Of There)
(Porter Grainger)
3-20-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Rainy Weather Blues
(G. Brooks)
8-8-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Reckless Blues
(Bessie Smith)
1-14-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Red Mountain Blues
(H. Troy)
11-20-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Rocking Chair Blues
(Bessie Smith / I. Johns)
4-4-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Safety Mama
(Bessie Smith)
11-20-1931 New York, New York Columbia
Salt Water Blues
(G. Brooks)
7-31-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Sam Jones Blues
(Al Bernard / Roy Turk / J. Russel Robinson)
9-24-1923 New York, New York Columbia
See If I Care
(Clarence Williams / Alex Hill)
4-12-1930 New York, New York Columbia
Shipwreck Blues
(Bessie Smith)
6-11-1931 New York, New York Columbia
Sinful Blues
(Perry Bradford)
12-11-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Sing Sing Prison Blues
(Porter Grainger / F. Johnson)
12-6-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Slow And Easy Man
(S. Red)
8-24-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Sobbin' Hearted Blues
(Perry Bradford / Layer / Davis)
1-14-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Sorrowful Blues
(Bessie Smith / I. Johns)
4-4-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Spider Man Blues
(Bessie Smith / H.Gray)
3-19-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Squeeze Me
(Clarence Williams / Fats Waller)
3-5-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Standin' In The Rain Blues
(Bessie Smith)
2-21-1928 New York, New York Columbia
St. Louis Blues
(W.C. Handy)
1-14-1925 New York, New York Columbia
St. Louis Gal
(J. Russel Robinson)
9-24-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Sweet Mistreater
(Henry Creamer / James P. Johnson)
1-4-1927 New York, New York Columbia
'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do
(Porter Grainger / E. Robbins)
4-26-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Take It Right Back ('Cause I Don't Want It Here)
(H. Gray)
7-25-1929 New York, New York Columbia
The Bye Bye Blues
(P. Carter)
9-26-1924 New York, New York Columbia
The Gin House Blues
(H. Troy / Fletcher Henderson)
3-18-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Them "Has Been" Blues
(W.E. Skidmore / M. Walker)
3-5-1925 New York, New York Columbia
Thinking Blues
(Bessie Smith)
2-9-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Ticket Agent Ease Your Window Down
(Spencer Williams)
4-5-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Washwoman's Blues
(Spencer Williams)
8-24-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Wasted Life Blues
(Bessie Smith)
10-1-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Weeping Willow Blues
(P. Carter)
9-26-1924 New York, New York Columbia
What's The Matter Now?
(Clarence Williams / Spenser Williams)
3-5-1926 New York, New York Columbia
Woman's Trouble Blues
(Jack Gee)
12-12-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Work House Blues
(Ted Wallace)
7-23-1924 New York, New York Columbia
Worn Out Papa
(Spencer Williams)
10-11-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Yes Indeed He Do!
(Porter Grainger)
8-24-1928 New York, New York Columbia
Yodling Blues
(Alex Hill / Clarence Williams)
6-14-1923 New York, New York Columbia
Young Woman's Blues
(Bessie Smith)
10-26-1926 New York, New York Columbia
You Don't Understand
(Clarence Williams, Spencer Williams / James P. Johnson)
10-11-1929 New York, New York Columbia
You Ought To Ashamed
(Porter Grainger)
8-24-1928 New York, New York Columbia
You've Been A Good Old Wagon
(Smith / Balcom)
1-14-1925 New York, New York Columbia
You've Got To Get Me Some
(Spencer Williams)
5-8-1929 New York, New York Columbia
Artist Instrument
Ed Allen Cornet
Louis Armstrong Cornet
Buster Bailey Clarinet
Louis Bacon Trumpet
George Baquet Clarinet
Bessemer Singers Vocals
Gavin Bushell Alto Saxophone
Buddy Christian Banjo
June Cole Bass Brass
Lincoln M. Conway Guitar
Demas Dean Cornet
Ernest Elliot Alto Saxophone, Clarinet
Bob Fuller Clarinet, Alto Saxophone
Porter Grainger Piano
Charlie Green Trombone
John Griffin Guitar
Coleman Hawkins Tenor Saxophone
Fletcher Henderson Piano
Shelton Hemphill Cornet
Irving Johns Piano
James C. Johnson Piano
James P. Johnson Piano
Jimmy Jones Piano
Tommy Ladnier Cornet
Eddie Lang Guitar
Fred Longshaw Piano
Stanley Miller Piano, Talking
John Mitchell Banjo
Don Redman Clarinet
Harry Reser Guitar
Robert Robbins Violin
Clara Smith Vocals
Joe Smith Cornet
Elmer Snowden Banjo
Cyrus St. Clair Bass Brass
Steve Stevens Piano
Greely Walton Tenor Saxophone
Abraham Wheat Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone
Clarence Williams Piano
Joe Williams Trombone

Somebody's Angel Child; The Story Of Bessie Smith, by Carmen Moore, 1969
Bessie, by Chris Albertson, Stein and Day Publishers, 1972
The Bessie Smith Companion, by Edward Brooks, Cavendish Publishing Co., 1982
Bessie Smith, by Jackie Kay, Outlines, 1997
Blues Legacies And Black Feminism, by Angela Davis, Pantheon Books, 1998
Backwater Blues; In Search Of Bessie Smith, by Sara Grimes, Rose Island Publishing Company, 2001
Title Director Year
St. Louis Blues Dudley Murphy 1929


 

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