April 15, 1894; she was one of seven children in the family.
September 26, 1937 in Clarksdale, Mississippi due to a car accident.
Also Known As:
She earned the title “Empress of the Blues." She was one of the greatest blues singers of the 1920s. Her vocal range was contralto but she wasn't limited to singing, she could also dance and act. Bessie Smith was one of the highest paid African-American artists during her time.
Her parents died when she was 9 and so her older sister, Viola, was the one who raised her. Bessie sang and danced on street corners to help with the family expenses. When she was a teenager she was hired to be a dancer of the Moss Stokes Company where her brother, Clarence, worked for. It was there where Bessie met Ma Rainey, reportedly the one who mentored her. In turn Bessie influenced other singers including Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Janis Joplin.
She began her professional career as part of the touring company Moss Stokes. She continued touring; performing in various venues such as Atlanta's 81 Theatre. Bessie later toured on the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit.
Rise to Fame:
In 1923 Bessie signed under the Columbia label with her first recording, "Down-Hearted Blues," selling almost 800,000 copies. This was a major turning point in her career, one that will propel her to fame. She collaborated with several jazz legends such as blues composer W.C. Hardy and jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
The Depression and her personal struggles affected Bessie's career. After a hiatus, she managed to continue performing and was set to do a recording when she died. She made 160 recordings and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. She appeared in the 1929 movie "St. Louis Blues."
Some of her hits include “Down Hearted Blues,” “Gulf Coast Blues,” “Backwater Blues,” “Taint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do,” “St. Louis Blues,” "Baby Doll," "After You've Gone" and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out."
Listen as Bessie Smith sings "St. Louis Blues" from Youtube.