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 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 seperated from her husband- Jack Gee when Smith’s lesbian affairs became a source of tension with her husband.
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 & she was buried in an unmarked grave outside of Philadelphia. In 1970, rock singer Janis Joplin, who cited Smith as a major influence on her own career, secured a headstone for Bessie. A few months later, Joplin herself died of a drug overdose.
"There’s 2 things got me puzzled
There’s 2 things I don’t understand
That’s a mannish acting woman & a skipping, twistin’ woman-acting man."
Foolish Man Blues