All About Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith, an influential blues artist, that turned black music into a profitable business. In 1891, Mamie Smith was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She started her music career at ten years old when she began touring with the “Four Dancing Mitchells” and singing in clubs in Harlem. In the 1920s, Smith began recording songs for Okeh Records. Okeh records was located in New York City. This was the first time a record label allowed a solo black blues singer to record in their studios. Initially due to the racial tensions, consumers planned to boycott the records and threaten the artists. However, Mamie Smith became a huge hit. Her hits “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here for You” sold more than a million copies. She was the first black blues artist to achieve monumental sales. Later on, she became known as the “Queen of Blues” and was quickly gaining nationwide popularity. In 1931, Mamie retired from her musical career and started appearing in films. She appeared in Mystery in Swing (1940), Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941), and Because I Love You (1943).

Race Records and the Music Industry

“Race Records” included ragtime, jazz, blues, and gospel music. It was a term applied to African-American music. Recorded music by African-Americans was called “Race Records” because they were predominately catered to the black community. Thus, white audiences did not know the majority of African-American artists. When Mamie Smith sold more than 75,000 copies white-owned recording labels began seeing the economic gain of including black artists. Although inclusivity is wonderful, these labels made financial gain by exploiting their black recording artists. White-owned labels exploited their artists by stealing rights to their music, copying their lyrics, and underpaying them. This also drove black recording labels out of business.

Closing Statement + Sources

Overall, Mamie Smith paved the way for future black recording artists. She gained nationwide popularity and outsold many recording artists. She inspired other musicians and showed that black talent is profitable enabling inclusivity in the music industry.

https://www.history.com/news/race-records-bessie-smith-big-bill-broonzy-music-business