Black Women and the Blues
Throughout the life of Mamie Smith, from the age of ten until her untimely death, she was able to pave the way for various African American women within the Blues industry, such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. She was able to do this through her multi-talented performances and music that she created during the 1920’s. With her creation of, “Crazy Blues,” (also considered the first production of Blues) she was able to become one of the most successful Blues musicians of all time. “Crazy Blues” was so successful that it was able to “[sell] 75,000 copies within the first months of its release” (Garner 2011). Through the continued success of Smith, she toured with a famous group, the Jazz Hounds, and performed impactful Blues music for various audiences across the country.
Bessie Smith’s incredible career began in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she originally grew up living in poverty, which eventually became one of the topics that she mainly sang about throughout her Blues music production. After being able to make her first music appearance in the Ivory Theatre within her hometown, she was able to tour with another incredible Blues vocalist, Ma Rainey, in 1913. Through her relationship with Ma Rainey she was able to gain vocal training and mentorship, thugs furthering her career. Bessie Smith, also known as the "Empress of Blues," is remembered for her incredible vocal talents within the genre of Blues. She was able to make a total of 160 recordings, some of which were accompanied by incredible Jazz musicians, like Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, etc. Smith’s music was noted for representing topics such as poverty, oppression, and unrequited love, which also allotted for her to use her voice to advocate for righteous movements.
Ma Rainey, also known as the “Mother of Blues,” was born in Columbus, Georgia and travelled across the country performing to various audiences with her husband, Pa Rainey; “for several years they toured with African American minstrel groups as a song-and-dance team” (Britannica 2007). Ma Rainey’s love and admiration for the creation of the Blues genre started in Missouri, and she was the major factor in evolving the genre to its modern-day form. Throughout Ma Rainey’s pivotal musical career, she was able to inspire and teach so many upcoming generations and artists, one of which being Bessie Smith. Rainey’s impact on the Blues genre is indescribable, and her musical contributions are limitless. Her deep and powerful voice was used to convey the messages of ordinary life, as well as emotions that many African American women did not have an outlet to express. Some of her most famous pieces that she continued to perform include: “See See Rider,” “Prove It on Me,” “Blues Oh Blues,” and many more.
Garner, C. (2011, January 16). Mamie Smith (1883-1946). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/smith-mamie-1883-1946/
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Bessie Smith”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 Dec. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bessie-Smith. Accessed 7 April 2021.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ma Rainey”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 Dec. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ma-Rainey. Accessed 7 April 2021.