Biography of Famous Popular Singer Bessie Smith Part 2

About famous popular singer Bessie Smith, biography and history of the artist.

Bessie Smith (1894-1937).

In 1929, Bessie starred in a 2-reel short called St. Louis Blues, based on a song of W. C. Handy's. The plot centered around the singing of the title song, about a woman who is two-timed and driven to drink by her handsome gamblin' man. At 1st suppressed for its "bad taste," it became fairly popular between 1929 and 1932.

In September of 1929, a week after the stock market crash, Columbia released Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." The record sold well, but her career was on the wane. The black community, which had always operated on a depression-level economy, was spending less money on entertainment and, for the whites, the blues seemed to lessen in popularity as they became an expression of grim reality. Austere record-company budgets necessitated that her recordings be pressed in smaller quantities than ever before, and her tours and theatrical appearances became less frequent.

On September 26, 1937, Bessie Smith was killed in an automobile accident on a Mississippi road. The controversy surrounding her death has never ended. One account has it that she bled to death on the road while waiting for medical attention. Supposely an ambulance arrived, but its driver picked up a less seriously injured white woman 1st, then came back for Bessie. Other sources claim that Bessie Smith died in the back of an ambulance on the way to a colored hospital, after she had been refused admittance to a white hospital. Her funeral in Philadelphia was one of the most spectacular seen in that city. An estimated 10,000 mourners filed past the gold-trimmed casket as she lay in state. She was buried after a noisy, emotional ceremony in grave No. 3, range 12, lot 20, section C of the Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill, Pa. The grave was unmarked until 1970, when a Philadelphia housewife made this fact known in a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Two donors immediately responded with the necessary funds to erect a headstone. One was a registered nurse who, as a child, had scrubbed Bessie Smith's floors on Saturday mornings, and the other was blues singer Janis Joplin. Both said they owed an eternal debt to Miss Bessie Smith.

Columbia Records has re-released 159 of Bessie Smith's recordings as 5 double albums. ("The World's Greatest Blues Singer"--GP33, "Any Woman's Blues"--G30126, "Empty Bed Blues"--G30450, "The Empress"--G30818, "Nobody's Blues But Mine"--G31093.) FOR FURTHER READING: Albertson, Chris. Bessie. New York, Stein & Day, 1972.

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