Since it’s origins, Blues has been a language of the slaves, housing the purpose of expressing feelings of pain and grief. It began as a non- verbal language, integrating various instruments (both orthodox and unorthodox). As Blues music rose to the top, becoming a much more popular genre, so did the era of Black women in Blues. Many Black women that sang during the blues era were not only very talented, but also had free range to expand the topics covered within the blues. It became a platform for these women to express the woes that the life of a black woman during the early-mid 1900s held.
The pioneer of this group was none other than Mamie Smith. She is best known for being the first African American Blues recording artist in 1920, paving the way for many other Black female artists within the industry. Her first studio recording, ” Crazy Blues”, discusses the discourse surrounding being African American within that time. To be more specific, the storyline behind the song is that a Black woman can not sleep because her man is unfaithful to her. He consistently steps out on her and at this point has even gone as far to leave her. She wants to find him because she can not stop thinking about him. However, there is much more to the story. There is a plot twist: The man will not be returning because he was killed by white Lynchers. This story can give two different interpretations, but both are representative of the Black woman experience during this early period of blues.
The great influences of Mamie Smith, led for the rise of other artists. Bessie Smith, a.k.a. the “Empress of the Blues”, came onto the scene as an even bolder and more confident artist. Bessie was not afraid to discuss what was described as “taboo” during that time. Her emotional intensity shined through as she sang about domestic violence, sex, sexuality, her dreams and desires, and the hard times faced by herself and her people. Black women’s woes were apart of the foundation of the Blues music and led to several realizations about the oppressive impacts that came with both being black and women. Not only that, but this particular music gained recognition for the hardships of black people has a whole and black men, as they did were much more confined in this genre when it came to speaking their truths.
Black women have made several great contributions to the world of music. However, the blues was a very pivotal point, where they were really able to pick up steam and just put everything out on the table. Since black women were considered to be slightly more palatable to their white audiences, they were able to get away with vocalizing more of their truths and horrifying experiences, without being subjected to as much backlash. The blues became a breeding ground for Black women to share their woes without fear of judgment. Little did they know, they would make history and influence the world of music for generations to come.