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Bessie Smith: The Rough and Tumble “Empress of Blues”<br />
Born in Turbulent Times<br />Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1894, only two years after the Plessy v. F...
Early Career<br />Getting her start singing on street corners in Chattanooga, TN as a young girl, Bessie Smith would event...
Bessie’s Big Break<br /> By the 1920’s, when Jazz was taking the country by storm, Bessie Smith was a major headliner in a...
Becoming the “Empress”<br />Bessie Smith earned the title of “Empress of the Blues” by virtue of her forceful vocal delive...
Backwater Blues<br />When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as nightWhen it rains five days and the skies turn da...
Kitchen Man<br />Madam Bucks	                 Wild about his turnip top,        		Oh, how that boy can open clams,<br />Wa...
Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out<br />Once I lived the life of a millionaireSpending my money, I didn't careI carried...
On Stage and Behind the Mic<br />Bessie’s presence was profound on stage as she was an all-around entertainer who danced, ...
Off Stage…<br />Bessie Smith was infamous for her whisky drinking, carousing, fighting, and yelling. <br />Continuously te...
A Constant Threat<br />As a traveling black blues woman in the 1920’s and 1930’s Smith had no choice but to stand strong a...
“Strange Fruit”<br />The post-Reconstruction era was not only a time of classical blues, but also a period of brutal and m...
Lynching from 1920<br />
Controversial Ending<br />On September 26, 1937 Bessie’s life came to an abrupt end and the controversial story of her dea...
The Music and Legacy Lives On<br />Smith has left behind a rich and influential legacy of over 160 vocal records cut withi...
Bessie Smith: The Rough and Tumble "Empress of Blues"
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Bessie Smith: The Rough and Tumble "Empress of Blues"

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Bessie Smith: The Rough and Tumble "Empress of Blues"

  1. 1. Bessie Smith: The Rough and Tumble “Empress of Blues”<br />
  2. 2. Born in Turbulent Times<br />Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1894, only two years after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision which mandated a “separate but equal” approach to the public sphere of the South. <br />Very little is known about the early life of Smith aside from the fact that she, along with her seven brothers and sisters, were orphans by the time Bessie was nine. <br />Smith and her siblings suffered from extreme poverty and it was within music that Bessie found her salvation.<br />
  3. 3. Early Career<br />Getting her start singing on street corners in Chattanooga, TN as a young girl, Bessie Smith would eventually join the Moses Strokes Traveling Show as a dancer (rather than a singer) in 1912. <br />The famous duo Ma and Pa Rainey were part of the troupe at the time of Smith’s induction; providing Bessie with exposure to powerful talent at the early stages of her professional career.<br /> <br />
  4. 4. Bessie’s Big Break<br /> By the 1920’s, when Jazz was taking the country by storm, Bessie Smith was a major headliner in all-black shows across the South, eventually catching the eye of Clarence Williams, a song-writer and businessman from New York City. <br />In 1923, Smith signed with Columbia Records. It was the recording that Smith and Williams produced together, Down-Hearted Blues, that skyrocketed Smith to the highest ranks of black performing artists of the time. <br />
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  6. 6. Becoming the “Empress”<br />Bessie Smith earned the title of “Empress of the Blues” by virtue of her forceful vocal delivery and command of the genre of blues.<br />Throughout the 1920’s Bessie Smith recorded regularly with many other big-name jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong. She continued to tour during this time as well, both in the North and South, always performing in front of large audiences.<br />In 1929, Smith made her film debut in St. Louis Blues, a film based on the jazz song of the same name, recorded by Armstrong and herself. <br />During her career, Bessie Smith had a long string of hits. This can be attributed to both Smith’s style of singing (broad phrasing, fine intonation, blue-note inflections, and wide, expressive range) and the woman she was on and off the stage. <br /> <br />
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  8. 8. Backwater Blues<br />When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as nightWhen it rains five days and the skies turn dark as nightThen trouble's takin' place in the lowlands at nightI woke up this mornin', can't even get out of my doorI woke up this mornin', can't even get out of my doorThere's been enough trouble to make a poor girl wonder where she want to goThen they rowed a little boat about five miles 'cross the pondThen they rowed a little boat about five miles 'cross the pondI packed all my clothes, throwed them in and they rowed me alongWhen it thunders and lightnin' and when the wind begins to blowWhen it thunders and lightnin' and the wind begins to blowThere's thousands of people ain't got no place to goThen I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hillThen I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hillThen looked down on the house were I used to liveBackwaterblues done call me to pack my things and goBackwater blues done call me to pack my things and go'Cause my house fell down and I can't live there no moreMmm, I can't move no moreMmm, I can't move no moreThere ain't no place for a poor old girl to go<br />
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  11. 11. Kitchen Man<br />Madam Bucks Wild about his turnip top, Oh, how that boy can open clams,<br />Was quite de-luxe; Like the way he warms my chop, No-one else can catch my hams,<br />Servants by the score, I can’t do without my kitchen man I can’t do without my kitchen man!<br />Footmans at each door, <br />Butlers and maids galore!  Anybody else could leave When I eat his doughnut,<br />  And I would only laugh, All I leave is the hole!<br />But one day Dan, But he means that much to me, Any time he wants to <br />an'Her kitchen man, And you ain’t heard the half! Why, he can use my sugar bowl!<br />Gave in his notice, he's through!<br />She cried, "Oh Dan don't go, Oh, his jelly roll is so nice and hot, Oh, his baloney’s worth a try,<br />It'll grieve me if you do". Never fails to test the spot, Never fails to satisfy,<br />   I can’t do without my kitchen man! I can’t do without my kitchen man!<br />I love his cabbage, crave his hash,<br />Daffy about his succertash, <br />I can't do without my kitchen man! <br /> His frankfurters are oh so sweet,<br /> How I like his sausage meat, <br /> I can’t do without my kitchen man!<br /> <br /> <br />
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  13. 13. Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out<br />Once I lived the life of a millionaireSpending my money, I didn't careI carried my friends out for a good timeBying bootleg liquor, champagne and wineThen I began to fall so lowI didn't have a friend, and no place to goSo if I ever get my hand on a dollar againI'm gonna hold on to it till them eagle's greenNobody knows you when you down and outIn my pocket not one pennyAnd my friends I haven't anyBut If I ever get on my feet againThen I'll meet my long lost friendIt's mighty strange, without a doubtNobody knows you when you down and outI mean when you down and outMmmmmmmm.... when you're down and outMmmmmmmm... not one pennyAnd my friends I haven't anyMmmmmmmm... Well I felt so lowNobody wants me round their doorMmmmmmmm... Without a doubt,No man can use you wen you down and outI mean when you down and out<br />
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  15. 15. On Stage and Behind the Mic<br />Bessie’s presence was profound on stage as she was an all-around entertainer who danced, acted, and often performed comedy routines with her touring company.<br />In her raw, uncut country blues style, Bessie told the story of black life in the South.<br />Drawing on her own experience and what she observed in the poverty-stricken black areas of the South, Smith channeled the emotions of many through her vocal delivery of the blues.<br />Gender issues, especially domestic violence and cheating husbands, were common themes in Smith’s music as well.<br />Bessie Smith was one of the first female blues singers to address the domestic violence issue head on, using empowering lyrics and rough vocals to assert her position and power as a black woman. <br />
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  17. 17. Off Stage…<br />Bessie Smith was infamous for her whisky drinking, carousing, fighting, and yelling. <br />Continuously telling her opponents to “kiss her black ass,” Smith captivated audiences that were fascinated with the singer’s wild, drunk, promiscuous, generous, cussing personality. <br />Before Bessie Smith, Blues had always been associated with a lack of manners and civility. What Smith did was transform the cultural meanings of these associations: roughness became formidable and the lack of social acceptability became defiance.<br />
  18. 18. A Constant Threat<br />As a traveling black blues woman in the 1920’s and 1930’s Smith had no choice but to stand strong and defiant. She constantly faced racial discrimination and the threat of racial violence, just as the thousands of other African Americans had before and after Reconstruction in the South. <br />Once during an outdoor performance in North Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan surrounded the singer’s tent. Smith singlehandedly confronted the group, asking the sheeted men, “What the fuck you think you’re doin’?” before telling them, “I’ll get the whole damn tent out here if I have to. You just pick up them sheets and run!” The Klansmen were shocked. They quickly turned around and disappeared into the night. <br /> <br />
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  20. 20. “Strange Fruit”<br />The post-Reconstruction era was not only a time of classical blues, but also a period of brutal and massive lynchings in the southern United States with more than 2,500 African Americans lynched between 1882 and 1930. <br />Ironically, both the popular performances of blues women and the Klan-inspired lynchings diminished after the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression in 1930.<br /> (Originally sung by Billie Holiday)<br />
  21. 21. Lynching from 1920<br />
  22. 22. Controversial Ending<br />On September 26, 1937 Bessie’s life came to an abrupt end and the controversial story of her death, like much of her life, was marked by racism. <br />Smith died in a car accident in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Smith rode in the passenger seat as her lover at the time, Richard Morgan drove the vehicle. <br />Although the actual events are obscure, or perhaps were locally suppressed, legend holds that Smith was denied treatment at a white hospital in Mississippi and that she bled to death en route to a black hospital in the area. <br />Bessie Smith was buried eight days later on October 4, 1937. The story of Smith’s death was so controversial that it inspired a play by Edward Albee entitled The Death of Bessie Smith. <br />
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  24. 24. The Music and Legacy Lives On<br />Smith has left behind a rich and influential legacy of over 160 vocal records cut within the ten year span of 1923-1933. <br />It has been documented that Bessie Smith has inspired other great artists like Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin.<br />In Joplin’s own words of tribute, “She showed me the air and taught me how to fill it.”<br /> <br />

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