Mamie Smith's Impact on Blues

Mamie Smith’s legacy is one that will always be remembered. Mamie Smith’s influence opened the door for black vocalists in Blues, which sparked the era of “Race records”. Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” changed music. Artists like Mamie Smith made a way for herself, for black artists, and black women. Women artists like Mamie Smith continued to shape music, especially for the black community, and deserve the proper recognition. 

Brief Introduction of Blues

Blues is a genre on music that originated in the southern United States around the 1890s. Much like other early forms of music, Blues was influenced by both European and African music traditions. From the European influence, the genre used basic I-IV-V harmonies as well as developed its form and instrumentation. From the African influence, Blues established its rhythmic, tonal, and timbral flexibility. Blues was also influenced by other genres such as ragtime and folk music.

Blues prioritized individual expression and improvisation.  Characteristics of blues included its lyrics focusing on self and being described as “frank” as well as discussing reality, seriousness, and the openness to acknowledge emotions. The term “blues” was most likely influenced by its readiness to discuss emotions and the rollercoasters of life. Majority of blues songs utilized the 12-bar AAB form or a modification of it, the I-IV-V chords. Blues also utilize riffs, which are repeated chord progressions.

Mamie Smith: A Blues artist that made an impact

Born in 1981 in Ohio, Mamie Smith’s original name was Mamie Robinson. Later in her life, she married and changed her name to Mamie Smith. Mamie Smith was an actress, dancer, and blues singer. 

While working for Okeh Records in New York, she recorded “That Thing You Call Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”. However, she is most famously known for the record, “Crazy Blues”. In the year 1920, she entered Blues history with “Crazy Blues” as the first Black vocalist to make a blues record. Due to her success in Blues, it led to the increase of race records and other record companies recording more female blues artists, which was the beginning of an era of blues music known as “Classic Female Blues”. Entering Blues history was a big deal for many reasons: success as an artist, success as an African American, and success as an African American woman, which contributed to paving the way for African Americans, especially women.

Mamie Smith was a woman of many talents, being able to sing, dance, play piano, and act. Mamie Smith’s recording of “Crazy Blues” was a great success for her, allowing her to enter history and alter the music industry. The year of 1920 has great significance, but Mamie Smith’s impact is greater than simply one year. Mamie Smith’s influence on Blues will always be remembered in history. 

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