PHOTO: Carl Van Vechten
Often known as the "Empress of the Blues," Bessie Smith influenced entire generations of blues, jazz, and rock musicians and was the highest-paid black entertainer of her time. Born in 1892 in Chattanooga, she was one of 13 children. To help raise money for her family, she and her brother performed on the streets of Chattanooga. In 1912 she was hired by a group of traveling entertainers known as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and the next year she formed her own act in Atlanta. After the release of her 1923 song Down Hearted Blues, Smith became hugely popular as a Columbia recording artist.
Bessie Smith died from injuries incurred in a 1937 automobile accident. By the way, rock singer Janis Joplin later donated money to pay for the tombstone you see here.
To learn about Bessie Smith you have to hear Bessie Smith. Some of her most famous songs are (click on each to hear the song) Gulf Coast Blues, St. Louis Blues
, and Down Hearted Blues