Embracing a New Norm Through Blues

By: Demi Browder

Women in Blues

African American women set the new standard of expression through music as they stood up and embraced their independence, freedom, and sexual imagery in Blues. Blues emerged during the decades following the abolition of slavery allowing for the genre to give musical expression to new social and  sexual realities encountered by African Americans as free women and men. Bessie Smith was a prominent figure in the blues scenes. She was known as the “Empress of the Blues,” due to her technical and personal performances that allowed her to become the highest paid black female artist during the era of blues. Bessie Smith wasn’t afraid to share her mind within her music. She sang specifically to and for black women, as she shared with the world struggles black women go through everyday that most of America wouldn’t even think about. Her ability to educate audiences on abuse, racism, and sexism was admirable during that time, because a lot of Black Americans were hesitant because they were concerned it would lead them to less success.  Other Blues artists like Ma Rainey and Mamie Smith expressed the some of the same topics in their music allowing them to pave the way and inspire female artists after them. 

Blues in Today

Although the blues scene has died down since Ms. Smith and Ms.Rainey was around, their impact still lives today. The confidence and space they established in the music industry has allowed for future women artists to start on a foundation themselves. The topics these women spoke about are topics we still hear in today’s music. Even though it is unfortunate black women still endure a lot of the trials and tribulations Bessie Smith sang on, the fight and power behind these words have grown. Artists today like Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, and Alicia Keys incorporate jazz elements used by the women like the Empress to tell and share their opinions on the black community without an ounce of worry from anyone who might hear. If it weren’t for the women in blues who knows what topic of conversation, if any would be for women, black women specifically and their ignored impact on the society. 

Works Cited

Davis, Angela. “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1998, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/d/davis-blues.html.

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