There were so many artists that brought blues to the forefront of music. Blues set the stage for music to be presented in such a way that you could feel the pain as the singer gave a voice to the lyrics.
Blues is a genre of music that evokes emotion and a reaction from the listener. The struggles of yesterday as presented in the songs causes the listener to pause and allow the words to dance around within the mind slowly. My bestb friend in the whole world is an avid blues lover so he will definitely enjoy this blog. I actually am doing this blog as a tribute to the genre and to him. He owns www.plumbersofpalmbeach.com. He’s always playing some blues song when he works on plumbing jobs in customers home. anyways, back to the article.
The Empress of Blues – Bessie Smith
Blues would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the talent of blues singer Bessie Smith. She embodies the very essence of the pain and struggle that lends to the powerful message only blues can convey.
Bessie’s Childhood Struggle
Bessie did not have a typical childhood, but rather one that was difficult. Losing her parents at the age of ten, Bessie and her siblings were raised by their older sister that showed little emotion or compassion. Sadly, the children came close to starvation while living in harsh conditions.
Stepping up to earn some money to feed her siblings, Bessie began to sing on street corners. By the time she reached nine years old, she had churches requesting her to sing as well as other community venues.
Her Music Takes Off!
Bessie “turned the corner” at the age of sixteen with her majestic voice when she met Ma Rainey (a famous blues singer.) Ma Rainey invited Bessie to go on tour with her and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. This was a variety show that traveled America.
By the age of twenty-four, Bessie had traveled the circuit and became involved in other traveling shows that brought her presence and talents to the forefront. Many began to refer to her as a woman that had the strong constitution of a man. Her boisterous voice when singing could stand on its own without the aid of a microphone. Those seated in the top balcony felt as though they were sitting in the front row as Bessie’s voice bellowed out.
As most other blues singers, Bessie brought life to the lyrics with the upsets and lows of life. However, Bessie brought more than the others. She managed to embellish the words while communicating the urgency of telling the absolute truth. “There was a misery in what she did,” stated by Alberta Hunter. “It was as though there was something she had to get out, something she just had to bring to the fore.”
Bessie’s travels stayed within the United States. It was as if she was anchored to her own country. Reaching six million sales within a four year period, she was the highest paid black singer. She managed to channel her story of struggle when singing. Whether she was in her most expensive sequined gowns with jewels or in a tattered cotton dress, she put on no airs and was able to perform on a stage on in an alley.
It all ended…
In 1937, Bessie died in a car accident. The funeral had over 5,000 in attendance. Her grave had no marking or way of identifying that Bessie Smith rested here.
Just two weeks before her own death, Janis Joplin purchased a headstone for Bessie’s grave. It’s ironic that both had such a prominent place in music with strong personalities; however, both were not immune to the unforsaken black cloud of death.
Her music will continue to play
Although Bessie Smith is no longer on this earth, her voice can still be heard all over the world with the same urgency. Her songs continue to command attention as it draws the listener in to hear the lyrics deliver the sad state of man’s struggle.