Bessie Smith


At the turn of the twentieth-century, in the rowdy streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a young Bessie Smith was literally singing for her supper. Busking alongside her brother, Bessie learned the hard way just what it took to capture an audience against the odds: to sing and dance and demand attention despite the clatter of carts and the shouts of storeowners and vendors selling their wares. This early foray into the performing life would help shape Smith into the greatest performer of her age, rising up to the heights of Empress of the Blues and becoming the highest paid black entertainer of her day. In her private life she was just as bold and brash as her stage persona, never shying away from saying what she thought and more than happy to get into a fistfight or two. So put the needle on some vinyl and join us as we get down and bluesy with Bessie Smith.

Brooks, Edward. The Bessie Smith Companion. Da Capo, 1983.

Clark, John. Experiencing Bessie Smith: A Listeners Companion. Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

NPR’s “Jazz Profiles” Bessie Smith: ‘Blues Empress’. May 7, 2008,

Scott, Michelle R. Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South. University of Illinois Press, 2008.

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