Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937).
American jazz singer born in Chattanooga, Tennessee; she was sometimes called “The Empress of the Blues”, and was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as the greatest singers of her era, and, along with Louis Armstrong, she was a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.
She began singing for money on street corners and eventually rose to become the largest-selling recording artist of her day. Her early career was influenced by Ma Rainey, and she went on to record more than 160 songs between 1923 and 1933 recording with such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Coleman Hawkins. She traveled with her own tent show or with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association aka TOBA shows, commanding an amazing weekly salary that peaked at $2,000.
Her hits include “Downhearted Blues” and “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out”. Bessie also appeared in the 1929 movie St. Louis Blues. Three of her recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, her “Downhearted Blues”, “St. Louis Blues”, and her hit from 1928 “Empty Bed Blues”.
Tragically Bessie sadly died in a car accident on U.S. Route 61 while traveling from a Memphis concert to Clarksdale, Mississippi. Bessie was taken to Clarksdale’s segregated Afro-Hospital and her arm was amputated, but she never regained consciousness and died that morning.