The American blues singer Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She died on September 26, 1937 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In April 2019, her birthday marks the 125th anniversary.
After the early death of her parents, she joined a traveling vaudeville theater, where she performed as a singer and dancer. There she met the singer Ma Rainey, who took care of her and helped her to the first solid engagements. After appearances with the Charlie Johnson Orchestra in the elegant dance hall “Paradise Gardens” in Atlantic City, Bessie Smith made her first recordings in 1923, including the title “Down Hearted Blues”, which eventually made her famous.
The song was the No. 1 of the Billboard Charts for four weeks; in seven months 870,000 copies were sold. With her passionate voice, Bessie Smith was an attraction in many clubs, music halls, and radio shows until the late 1920s. She also appeared with Louis Armstrong and other famous musicians.
Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues”, recorded more than 150 records. In 1980 she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 1984 in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Listen to Bessie Smith (vocal) and Clarence Williams (Piano) performing their first hit “Down Hearted Blues” of 1923.