Smith, Bessie


Smith, Bessie

biographical name

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Bessie Smith.—Courtesy of Columbia Records; photograph, Carl Van Vechten

(born April 15, 1898?, Chattanooga, Tenn., U.S.—died Sept. 26, 1937, Clarksdale, Miss.) U.S. blues and jazz singer. Smith sang popular songs as well as blues on the minstrel and vaudeville stage. She began recording in 1923 and appeared in the film St. Louis Blues (1929). Her interpretations represent the fully realized transition of the rural folk tradition of the blues to its urbane structure and expressiveness. A bold, supremely confident artist with a powerful voice and precise diction, she became known as “Empress of the Blues.” Smith was the most successful African American entertainer of her time. She died from injuries sustained in a car crash, and it was said that, had she been white, she would have received earlier medical treatment and her life might have been saved; the actual circumstances of her treatment remain obscure.

Variants of SMITH, BESSIE

Smith, Bessie orig. Elizabeth Smith

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