Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
[Episode Summaries] [Oral Histories] [The Songs and the Artists] [Eternal Songs] [Instruments and Innovations] [Behind the Scenes] [Links] [Into the Classroom] [Credits] American Roots Music
Musicians on Stage  
The Songs and The Artists  

BESSIE SMITH

Of all the classic female blues singers of the 1920s, Bessie Smith most articulately and convincingly demonstrated the power of the blues. A large woman who used every bit of her size to create the passion that flowed through her songs, Smith first recorded in 1923, launching a blues career that would have no parallel during the classic blues era. From 1923 to 1933, Smith recorded more than 150 songs for Columbia Records. Many of them -- "Down Hearted Blues," "'Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do," "Back Water Blues," "Poor Man's Blues," "Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out" -- are central to the blues canon. Smith's version of the W.C. Handy hit "St. Louis Blues" includes backing by Louis Armstrong and a jazz band. The track not only reveals how closely allied jazz and blues were in the 1920s, but also demonstrates the artistic genius of the two greatest African-American artists of the decade and, arguably, the century. Bessie Smith continued to record and perform well into the 1930s, despite a Depression-ravaged "race" records market. She was killed in 1935 in an automobile accident in Clarksdale, Mississippi, ending a career that defined the female blues tradition.

Courtesy of palmpictures.com

Back to Artists



 

Home   |   Episode Summaries   |   Oral Histories   |   Songs & Artists   |   Eternal Songs
Instruments & Innovations   |   Behind the Scenes   |   Links   |   Into the Classroom   |   Credits   |   Reviews
Bring American Roots Music home

© The Ginger Group 2001