"It's a long old road, but I know i'm gonna find the end"

Bessie Smith: In the Beginning

Bessie Smith, also known as ‘The Empress of the Blues’ was one of the very first famous blues artists. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee Smith did not have an easy upbringing. She and her brothers and sisters were left to their own devices after their parents died when they were young. As a source of income, Smith and her siblings performed on street corners. As the years progressed Bessie Smith’s eldest brother moved out to pursue a different career. Later, Smith’s brother Clarence noticed her talent and set up an audition that would go on to change her life. 

Bessie Smith Through the Years

By the early 1920s Bessie Smith was being noticed by multiple noticeable producers at the time. Smith was signed by Columbia Records in 1923. Once she was signed, Smith started making hit records, her first hit being “Downtown Blues”. As Downtown Blues gained traction, Smith became the main attraction on a traveling Theatre circuit. Bessie Smith quickly became the highest paid and most wealthy Black person in the entertainment industry, during her time. She faced discrimination and was not loved throughout the Black community, many labels rejected her after many additions but this did not keep her from continuing to gain popularity. By the end of her career, Smith recorded over 160 songs for the renowned Columbia Records.