Bessie Smith: The Empress of Blues

Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in either 1892 or 1894. Bessie lost both of her parents when she was young and was raised by her older sister, Viola. In order to earn money for her family, Bessie and her brother would entertain people by singing and dancing in the streets. Thus, Smith’s talent for music began at an early age. Smith did not allow the destitution and disadvantage, which was meant to hold her back stifle her creative spirit. Instead, she used her life circumstances as fuel in her music. The blues transformed misery of life into jubilation. The blues validated the existence of so many people, who otherwise would be resigned to silence and complacency in a biased society. For many people Blues were an outlet and an escape from a harsh reality of inequality. Life for an African-American in the segregated south was hardly easy. Blues became a source of pride and freedom for many people.

Although Bessie Smith had always had a gift for music, her big break came when her older brother, who had been traveling with the Moses Stokes troup, got her an audition. She didn’t start out singing in the group, but started out dancing instead. She worked her way up the performance ladder and soon she was signed to Columbia records. When she moved to Philadelphia in 1923, she met and fell in love with a security guard named Jack Gee. Bessie Smith became the highest paid Black entertainer of her era.


Many of Bessie Smith’s song’s focus on sexuality. One of her most notable songs ” Sugar in My Bowl,” is blatantly sexual, other songs are slightly less obvious, but still sexual like “Kitchen Man,” which is one of my favorites.

I think one of her most beautiful songs was “After You’ve Gone.”

Check Them Out Below:

2 thoughts on “Bessie Smith: The Empress of Blues”

  1. Florence Mills was undoubtedly the most popular and highest paid black woman of that era. Sadly, we have no recordings of her. She started out singing with her two sisters (The Mills Sisters), moved on to the ‘Panama Four’ and then was a smash hit in Eubie Blake’s ‘Shuffle Along’ in 1921. By 1924, she headlining at the Palace Theater on Broadway. She became an international superstar with the hit show ‘Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds’ (1926) in London. Among her fans when she toured Europe was the Prince of Wales, who told the press that he had seen Blackbirds eleven times. By 1927, she was exhausted and contracted tuberculosis. She died of infection (complications from appendicitis) following an operation at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City, New York on November 1, 1927. Dignitaries and political figures of both races sent their condolences. 10,000 paid their respects at the funeral home in Harlem and thousands more lined the streets getting as close to Florence as possible.
    Mills is credited with having been a staunch and outspoken supporter of equal rights for African Americans, with her signature song “I’m a Little Blackbird” being a plea for racial equality, and during her life Mills shattered many racial barriers
    It seems that she has been forgotten though the pride she brought to the black community in the entire nation led to the movement we now call the Harlem Renaissance.


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