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LGBT People of History 23 - Bessie Smith

Updated on April 26, 2012
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith | Source
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith | Source

Bessie Smith


Bessie Smith (1897 – 1937) was probably the most influential female blues singer of her generation. Her influence stretched into the second half of the twentieth century inspiring groups such as the Rolling Stones. She was nicknamed the ‘Empress of the Blues’.

She was born into a poor household in Chattanooga. She would busk with her brother, Andrew, on the streets in order to earn some money for the family. Through her elder brother, Clarence, and the Stokes Troupe, she met Ma Rainey.

She started her recording career in 1923 in Philadelphia and met Jack Gee. The pair married and by all accounts had a tempestuous marriage with a lot of cheating on both sides. Smith was bisexual and had a number of flings with women eg she had an affair with Lillian Simpson, a chorus girl. Smith would disappear for very long periods and was often found in jail. Jack would bail her out. Jack had affairs with other women and in 1929 after the latest one, Bessie ended their relationship, though they never were divorced.

Richard Morgan became Bessie’s common law husband and their relationship lasted until her death.

Bessie died as a result of a serious car crash on Route 61 in 1937. It is possible that she could have survived had it not been for the segregation of whites and blacks in hospitals (amongst many other things) in the Deep South at the time. Many thousands attended her funeral.

If you ask any of the 1960s generation of music makers about their influences you will find the name, Bessie Smith, very high on their lists.



Ian and Callum.



Thanks to Wikipedia and http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Bentley/QueersinJazz.html

Here is a link to the Hub where you will find links to all of our other LGBT People of History Hubs:

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    • alian346 profile image
      Author

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thank you, Jean. They certainly influenced the pioneers of 1960s R&B!

      Ian.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 5 years ago from New Jersey

      All these old blues singers were pioneers for their time!

    • alian346 profile image
      Author

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      I still remember listening to her sing as a kid on old scratchy records! What an experience!

      Ian.

    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Brilliant hub Ian, she really was an inspiration, so sad that she died so young.