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Empty Bed Blues

Bessie Smith

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Album Review

Bessie Smith was enormously popular, selling millions of records as one of the leading classic blues singers, a diva-featuring genre that drew from early 20th century vaudeville, jazz, and popular music. Smith recorded plenty of 12-bar blues, including raunchier songs like "Kitchen Man." Other songs, like W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," were built like Tin Pan Alley tunes but were given the blues-like accompaniment of piano and one horn. The sideman credits reveal the degree of Smith's stardom in the '20s; on these recordings, which cover a decade of her work, she's accompanied by the cream of the era's jazz musicians, from Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden to James P. Johnson, Eddie Lang, and a small group led by Fletcher Henderson.


Born: 15 April 1894 in Chattanooga, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s

The first major blues and jazz singer on record and one of the most powerful of all time, Bessie Smith rightly earned the title of "The Empress of the Blues." Even on her first records in 1923, her passionate voice overcame the primitive recording quality of the day and still communicates easily to today's listeners (which is not true of any other singer from that early period). At a time when the blues...
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