BIRTH DATE: April 15, 1894?
BIRTHPLACE: Chattanooga, Tenn.
EDUCATION: Little or none.
FAMILY BACKGROUND: Born into poverty, little is known of Bessie Smith's early life.
DESCRIPTION OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Known as the "Empress of the Blues," Bessie Smith revolutionized the vocal end of blues music in the 1920s with her rich voice and has influenced generations of musicians.
After singing with "Ma" Rainey's Rabbit Foot Minstrels traveling show for several years, Bessie Smith went solo and signed with Columbia Records. Her songs, the best known of which included "Down Hearted Blues," "Gulf Coast Blues," "Jealous Hearted Blues," and "Cold in Hand Blues," were about poverty, oppression, and unrequited love and touched the hearts of thousands. Her records sold excellently and she became a major attraction in vaudeville.
Changing tastes in music as well as alcoholism caused Bessie Smith's career to fade out by the end of the 1920s. Nevertheless, her singing talent did not diminish. From 1933 she was gradually making a comeback with a recording session and an appearance at the Apollo Theater. This was all cut short by her tragic death in an automobile accident.
DATE OF DEATH: Sept. 26, 1937, age 43? (of injuries sustained in an automobile accident).
PLACE OF DEATH: Clarksdale, Miss.
PORTRAYED BY: Madelyn Sanders
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