Bessie Smith started performing around the age of 8 or 9, and was recognized later in her life by Ma Rainey (a popular blues singer at the time) who mentored her in the scene of the blues industry and toured with her. Bessie was known for the powerful and impressive vocal performances she gave that rang throughout venues without the use of a microphone. She sold millions of copies of her music and was the highest paid black performer of her time despite singing about her experiences as a working class black woman. Her music influenced other popular female artists to come such as Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Janis Joplin.
Bessie Smith has a powerful voice that is filled with soul and has a hypnotic ring to it. She sings with a strong, rumbling vibrato and tone. that conveys what she’s feeling deeply. This makes her music comforting and easy to resonate with for her target audience (black people) who share her life’s common themes of oppression and sorrow.
Bessie’s music generally features instrumental compositions featuring the trumpet, trombone, piano, clarinet, and saxophone. The detuned piano in her songs adds to the strong emotions expressed in her lyrics, as well as the woodwinds, which have a soothing sound that brings a lighthearted feel to the otherwise sad themes of the music.
To those who lead lives similar to the plight of Bessie Smith, her music is something relatable that resonates well with the soul. As you digest the sounds and listen to the words, you’re immersed in a feeling of comfortingly strong emotions like love, desire, hope, and sadness. If nothing else, her music makes you feel something empathetic but unexplainable.