The Empress of Blues Bessie Elizabeth SMith

  • Started in 1918-1929 between the end of World War 1 and beggining of Great Depression
  • "It was a time of Negro Vogue"
  • Held at Harlem,New York "Negro capital of America"
  • New Negro is a word to describe Harlem Renaissance ( refusal to submit quietly to the practices of Jim Crow Law)
  • A number of causes propelled the Great Black Migration (southern white mob violence, the economics of discrimination, crop failure,etc)
  • Bessie Smith contribution to the Harlem Renaissance was speaking out through the hardships of life for a southern black women through her music which was blues
  • Born: April 15th, 1984 in Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Died from a car accident on: September 26, 1937 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, United States
  • She was born into a poor Negro family (Parents- William and Laura Smith)
  • As a child appeared in school plays and made her first professional appearance at the age of nine in Ivory, Theatre
  • Her hobbies included roller skating and she won and state championship as a young girls
  • Married John Gee who was a police officer in June 7, 1923
  • "Ma" Rainey trained her in blues
  • Bessie Smith recorded her first phonograph record on "Gulf Coast Blues" and "Down Hearted Blues"
  • She toured the Negro vaudeville circuit known as the T.O.B.A.(Theatre Owners and Bookers Association) as its star attraction
  • Bessie Smith sang about the facts of Negro life in the deep South with a wry, salty humor that laughed to keep from crying.
  • 1929 Bessie Smith's voice and sales of her records were slipping due to heavy drinking
  • " I ain't good-lookin, but I'm somebody's angel child"-Bessie Smith
  • Made great and enduring use of blues tonality by using the third/seventh notes in the scale with wide/controlled variety slurs, scoops, slides, and glisses, which gave her voice a moaning, shouting, and praying quality. Her singing had a full-blown authority, a casual but enormous strength, and a heart-breaking earthiness (Why she is named "The Empress of Blues")

"No blues singer can escape the influence of Bessie Smith, "The Empress of the Blues." She gave the music its raw, regal poignancy -- and marketability. Her feverish growls and testifying delivery has informed nearly every facet of African-American music, from Mahalia Jackson to Mary J. Blige." - Rolando Arrieta

Works Cited

"Harlem Renaissance: What was the Harlem Renaissance?" History in Dispute, edited by Robert J. Allison, vol. 3: American Social and Political Movements, 1900-1945: Pursuit of Progress, St. James Press, 2000, pp. 78-85. U.S. History in Context,

Lewis, David Levering. "Harlem Renaissance." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, edited by Colin A. Palmer, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2006, pp. 998-1018. U.S. History in Context,

"Bessie Smith." Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944. U.S. History in Context, Feb 20 Feb 20 Feb 27

Created By
Donielle Coach


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