Women of the Blues


The 1920’s was accompanied by a blues soundtrack that included elements such as call and response, syncopation, and flattened ‘blue’ notes. Early 20th-century African Americans in the South originated the blues, a type of secular folk music. By the 1960s, the blues’ straightforward but expressive forms had become one of the most significant effects on the growth of popular music in the entire country, specifically jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, and country music.The blues also allowed women to be in the spotlight more than any other genre during its time. This specific gave exposure and visibility to female artists like never seen before. 

Bessie Smith

Ma Rainey

Mamie Smith

Smith, who was dubbed the “Empress of the Blues” during her lifetime, was a fearless, extremely self-assured musician whose work frequently detested the use of a microphone and reflected the disappointments and aspirations of an entire generation of Black Americans. She made an appearance in the 1929 short film St. Louis Blues, which has been preserved in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress since 2006. The movie, which is based on the song’s lyrics and features solely Smith singing, demonstrates the emotional impact of her performance. She suffered injuries in a car accident, which caused her death. audiences all over the country.

Ma Rainey’s presence in the blues world did not only break down one societal barrier, but two. She was both female and openly bisexual and neither of those things tainted her brilliant talent. She is still known as the Mother of Blues due to her deep voice and mesmerizing live performances. In the late 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, Rainey settled in Chicago. She began travelling and doing private performances after losing her recording deal with Paramount (the label claimed her brand of blues had gone out of style). After her mother and sister passed away, Rainey moved back to Columbus, Georgia to live with her brother. She was involved in the Friendship Baptist Church, where her brother served as a deacon, and she owned and ran two theaters. At the age of 53, Rainey fell suddenly from heart illness on December 22, 1939.


Historians think that Smith was born Mamie Robinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1883, yet nothing is known about her early years. She began performing in vaudeville at the age of 10 and began travelling with the Four Dancing Mitchells. Throughout her adolescence, she continued to tour with other artists. When she was 20 years old, she was working and living in Harlem. Shortly after, she married William “Smithy” Smith. After her career took off, she got married twice more. Mamie Smith is the first African American to ever record vocal blues. Her song, “Crazy Blues” changed the way the music industry catered to African Americans and created a new tactic for the music industry. Music was now being catered specifically to black listeners like it never had before. 


Near New Orleans, the cradle of jazz, in the Mississippi Delta, the blues developed. Jazz and the blues have always inspired one another, and this interaction continues to this day in many different forms. Contrary to jazz, the blues didn’t leave the South for the Midwest until the 1930s and 1940s. The Delta blues changed into the electrified Chicago blues, different regional blues styles, and diverse jazz-blues fusions once they reached urban regions up the Mississippi. Rock ‘n roll and rhythm ‘n’ blues emerged from the blues about ten years later.

In conclusion, without such influential women leading the genre of blues, female artists who came after them would not have had the same respect or recognition in the music world. These women are trailblazers in the music industry and did not allow any stereotype of societal construct to stop them from sharing their voices with the world.

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