Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith sings in the movie St. Louis Blues


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.

Bessie Smith’s gravesite

After the release of her song “Down Hearted Blues,” Smith became hugely popular as a Columbia recording artist and made over 160 recordings.

Bessie Smith died from injuries incurred in a 1937 automobile accident.