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Famous female blues singers

Updated on May 9, 2015

Famous female blues singers

The American musical history has deep roots in the Afro-American cultural synthesis. Music, songs and dances have always been inborn in Africans - who with their unforgettable masterly performances captivate people’s hearts at once. There are several genres, styles, and sub-genres in Afro-American music, namely jazz, blues, soul, etc. What we intend to discuss in the current article is the blues and the famous female blues singers.

The blues is both a musical form and genre. The name of this art form is bearing a reference to the “blue devils” implying sadness, melancholy and depressed spirits. The first records on blues would take us back to America’s Deep South of late 1880s. The original blues themes were inspired by work songs, spirituals, shouts, chants, rhymed narrative ballads, field hollers, and of course the Ethiopian airs and the ragtime elements. There were formed three main blues streams: urban (city), country blues, and vaudeville. These streams in their turn also have a number of sub-genres that were popular throughout the 1990s, here belong: the Piedmont, Delta, Chicago blues, Jump, and later – the rock blues.

Starting from the first decades of the 20th century, to some extent city started to impose particular frames on the variant performance of the blues compositions moulding it to better fit the public. From this time on female singers started to reap the laurels. Famous female blues singers from that time on (both city and vaudeville) would include: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Sippie Wallace, Clara Smith, Edith Wilson, Trixie Smith, Sara Martin, Bertha “Chippie” Hill, and Lucille Hegamin. However to make the list more complete we must mention round 100 other singers namely: Viola McCoy, Lizzie Miles, Martha Copeland, Rosa Henderson, Edith Johnson, Bessie Jackson (Lucille Bogan), Katherine Baker, Hattie Burleson, Margaret Johnson, Madlyn Davis, Maggie Jones, Ivy Smith, Gladys Bentley, Alberta Brown Ida Goodson, Billie Pierce Virginia Liston, Florence Mills, Fannie May Goosby, and Bernice Edwards. After the 30-year’s decline starting form the late 1950s the female blues began to revive. Musicians (a band) playing the piano, drums and horns would normally back the female singers.

The epoch of the classic female blues lasted about a decade 1920 – 1929. The Mother of Blues is considered to be Ma Rainey who added comedy and show action while singing. She had more than hundred songs. However in 1920 it was Mamie Smith who became the first performer of the blues to make recordings. She is also known as “America’s First Lady of the Blues”. She sold tens of thousand records during the first month. According to the records, the best paid and most admired was Bessie Smith. Ruth Brown had a soft vocal and made the charts for over a decade from late 1940s till somewhere 1955. Afterwards she was more known as a pop and rock ’n’ roll singer. The artists who performed in soul and R&B genres were under the strong influence of her outstanding talent. Among the top singers of the 20th century we need to mention Ida Cox. Besides being a performer she ran a couple of businesses, she was also a manager and a producer. She performed mostly for women audiences, as from women and about women. A blues legend was Billie Holiday. She had an unforgettable vocalic talent and a bright personality.

Bessie Smith - I ain't got nobody (1925)


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