Bessie Smith was born into poverty in Tennessee on this day, April 15th, in 1894. She was discovered singing on street corners as a young girl by Blues star Ma Rainey. Smith was to married a man, but she had many love affairs with other women on the touring circuit, including Boula Lee, the wife of her musical director. Ma Rainey was probably her first lover. She eventually separated from her husband, Jack Gee, when Smith’s lesbian affairs became a source of tension in her marriage.
Bessie Smith was known as the "Empress of the Blues" during the 1920s &1930s. Her very popular “race records”: Down Hearted Blues, St. Louis Blues, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out, & Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer became all the rage.
Tragically in 1937, she was killed in an automobile accident while on a concert tour. Smith was buried in an unmarked grave outside of Philadelphia. In 1970. Janis Joplin, who cited Smith as a major influence on her own career, secured a headstone for her. A few months later, Joplin herself died of a drug overdose.
"There’s two things got me puzzled
There’s two things I don’t understand
That’s a mannish acting woman & a skipping, twistin’ woman-acting man."
Foolish Man Blues