About Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer.
Sometimes referred to as The Empress of the Blues, Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.
By 1923, when she began her recording career, Smith had taken up residence in Philadelphia. There she met and fell in love with Jack Gee, a security guard whom she married on June 7, 1923, just as her first record was released. During the marriage—a stormy one, with infidelity on both sides—Smith became the highest paid black entertainer of the day, heading her own shows, which sometimes featured as many as 40 troupers, and touring in her own railroad car. Gee was impressed by the money, but never adjusted to show business life, or to Smith's bisexuality. In 1929, when she learned of his affair with another singer, Gertrude Saunders, Bessie Smith ended the relationship, although neither of them sought a divorce.
Smith eventually found a common-law husband in an old friend, Richard Morgan, who was Lionel Hampton's uncle and the antithesis of her husband. She stayed with him until her death.
Smith's career was cut short by a combination of the Great Depression (which all but put the recording industry out of business) and the advent of "talkies", which spelled the end for vaudeville. She never stopped performing, however. While the days of elaborate vaudeville shows were over, Smith continued touring and occasionally singing in clubs. In 1929, she appeared in a Broadway flop called Pansy, a musical in which top critics said she was the only asset.
In 1929, Smith made her only film appearance, starring in a two-reeler titled St. Louis Blues, based on W. C. Handy's song of the same name. In the film, directed by Dudley Murphy and shot in Astoria, she sings the title song accompanied by members of Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, the Hall Johnson Choir, pianist James P. Johnson and a string section — a musical environment radically different from any found on her recordings.
- "Bessie" by Chris Albertson. Yale University Press, 2005, Chris Albertson's blog, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, nndb, Blues singers Bessie Smith family tree, More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Tennessee Women. By Susan Sawyer. "Bessie Smith" (pages 111-115), Ancestry Genealogy, Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South. By Michelle R. Scott, Jerry Jazz Musician Interviews » Biographers "Chris Albertson, author of Bessie." September 22, 2003
- Residence: (1910 — Age: 16), Chattanooga Ward 7, Hamilton, Tennessee
- Wedding License: (transcribed) 7 day of June A.D. 1923. Orphan's Court, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (see "timeline" tab for full transcription)
- Death Certificate: Sept 26, 1937, Afro American Hospital, Clarksdale, Mississippi.
- "Funeral of Bessie Smith" The Afro American, Oct 9, 1937. Bessie Smith Gee is survived by three sisters, Misses Viola Smith, Lula Smith and Tennie Smith; a husband, Jack Gee; a brother, Clarence Smith; and two nephews, Thomas Hill and Dolhin Smith .... Jack Gee quit show business in 1930 and now has a prosperous junk contracting business in New York City. He resides at 48 West 127th Street.