Topics: Blues, Bessie Smith, Columbia Records Pages: 6 (2193 words) Published: December 12, 2012
Bessie by Chris Albertson
Rowdy, powerful, and innovative songstress, Bessie Smith dominated the 1920s blues circuit in America. Her soulful drown out voice reinvented the lyrics of many and captivated her audiences. She toured throughout the south and northeast regions building fan base of all races, and breaking strides in the newly developing black record business. Like most artist, people only knew the musical genius of Bessie Smith. The background, personality, and struggle of the woman behind the microphone were not mainstream entertainment news. Chris Albertson, however, stepped outside the entertainment realm to discover and illustrate the story of the actual woman they called Bessie Smith. During the time of Bessie Smith and shortly there after, writers did not focus on the life the audience did not know. The entertainment aspect of the artist was all that mattered when documenting their history. Albertson took a different approach in unveiling his biography of Bessie Smith. Bessie was written from a behind the scenes perspective. Albertson interviewed family, friends, associated artist, and inquired old publications from Bessie’s era. The actual commentaries from newscast, interviews, and pictures of documents and people inserted throughout the book gives the reader an even closer insight of Bessie Smith. This biography allows the reader to perhaps venture back into the 1920s and assemble as a fly on a wall throughout the life and career of Bessie Smith. Where most biographies about artist of the 1920s Renaissance begin with their years of stardom, Chris Albertson took the huge leap of tracing Bessie Smith back to birth. Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in April of 1894, because birth certificates were not common for blacks of this time the actual date the world was blessed with the “Empress of Blues” is not for certain; however the her marriage license accredits the fifteenth of April as this day. Bessie was one of seven children born to William and Laura Smith in a one room cabin of the poor African American section of Chattanooga. She began her life in turmoil of poverty and death. William, who was a Baptist Preacher, died during Bessie’s infancy, and nine years later, her mother and two brothers were also deceased. These tragic events left the raising of greatness to the oldest Smith daughter, Viola. She took command of the household, raising five children–Bessie, Tinnie, Lulu, Andrew and Clarence Smith–as well as her own daughter. The young Bessie Smith and her brother Andrew earned money by singing on Chattanooga street corners for nickels and dimes. At this point in Bessie’s life, there were not many options for blacks to excel. Though Chattanooga was a great port city, blacks only had two options: hard underpaid labor, or enter the entertaining traveling shows; Bessie, destined for so much more, however, gained her start in one of these traveling shows. Clarence Smith, her brother, joined the Moses Stokes' Traveling Show–a touring minstrel and vaudeville show–as a comedian and dancer. In 1912, when Bessie Smith was seventeen, Clarence asked the show's managers, Lonnie and Cora Fisher, to allow his sister to audition. They agreed, and eventually hired her as a dancer. By this time, Bessie Smith had grown up to become a commanding presence. She was nearly six feet tall and weighed close to two hundred pounds. Although she began her career as a dancer, she was soon singing in the chorus, and eventually became a featured singer. Bessie was maturing as not jus an artist, but as a performer of many realms. While traveling with the Moses Stokes Traveling Show, Smith met Ma Rainey, one of the most famous blues singers at that time. Ma Rainey's vocal style was similar to Bessie Simth's–full-throated, with sophisticated phrases–but Smith's style was already firmly established by the time she met Rainey. Rainey took young Bessie under her care and nurtured her as a mother nurtures...
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