Bessie Smith Empress of the Blues

“Listen to my story and everything will come out true.” -- Bessie Smith

The Harlem Renaissance was a blossoming in African American creative arts which lasted between 1918-1935. Often associated with the New Negro Movement, the Harlem Renaissance helped pave the way for African American writers and artists into the twentieth century.

The movement started with the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the more urbanized North. This shift dramatically increased literacy rates as well as the development of organizations with the goal to increase civil rights and race pride for African Americans.

“Harlem served as a symbolic capital of the cultural awakening" -International Encyclopedia of Social Services

Dubbed "the empress of the blues", Bessie Smith was one of the most popular blues singers in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance.

Bessie Smith was born into poverty in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1894 where she often sang on street corners for money.

When she was a teenager, she toured with her mentor Gertrude "Ma" Rainey who later became her greatest rival in the 20's as a blues singer.

“ But before she started, most black music did not make it into the mainstream. The only thing that record companies would produce was minstrel singing. They, right around the early '20s, discovered that there was actually a market out there for authentic black music from actual black voices, and Bessie stepped in as one of the biggest-hit sellers in that genre.” -Wright (NPR)

Bessie Smith recorded about 160 songs in her peak years (1923-1928).

She is widely regarded as one of the most recognizable names of female blues singers of the 1920's.

Bessie Smith was fatally injured in a car accident in 1937.

Although never confirmed, many thought her death was a result of neglect at an all-white hospital that she is presumed to have died in.

Bessie Smith is still often regarded as the one of the greatest blues singers, her grave reads "The greatest blues sing in the world will never stop singing."

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