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Album Review

Although there are a multitude of box sets chronicling Bessie's entire recorded career, this two-disc, 36-song set sweats it down to the bare essentials in quite an effective manner. Bessie could sing it all, from the lowdown moan of "St. Louis Blues" and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" to her torch treatment of the jazz standard "After You've Gone" to the downright salaciousness of "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl." Covering a time span from her first recordings in 1923 to her final session in 1933, this is the perfect entry-level set to go with. Utilizing the latest in remastering technology, these recordings have never sounded quite this clear and full, and the selection — collecting her best-known sides and collaborations with jazz giants like Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Goodman — is first-rate. If you've never experienced the genius of Bessie Smith, pick this one up and prepare yourself to be devastated.

Customer Reviews

this is LIVE music...

with bessie's stuff more than most otehrs, i feel as if i'm being visited by ghosts from generations passed. this music is about as accessible emotionally as it gets- it's sugn TO you- and yet has more complex layers of entendre than just about anything since. that is what is lost to most of today's listeners. and as for emtotion, well, i can't think of a better instance of joy/fun out of the most oppressive problems... remember also that bessie's generation had NO MICROPHONES, which profoundly influences the style of playing (the piano and horns...) AND singing-- she SHOUTS much more than she whispers. if you're at all intrigued or mystified by this music i HIGHLY recommend reading Angela Davis' "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism." This not only clarifies the euphemisms and social context but also the performance context. it's brilliant writing and research in itself. 'baking jelly rolls' for instance, would only occur by sheer coincidence in a bakery. and the 'corn' in black mountain blues probably comes from a keg or bottle rather than an ear... this is as shallow a tip of the iceberg as i can give. but remember she is called the EMpress of Blues for a REASON; everything after Bessie has something to do wtih her.


Born: April 15, 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...
Full Bio
The Essential Bessie Smith, Bessie Smith
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  • $16.99
  • Genres: Blues, Music, Jazz, Chicago Blues, Trad Jazz
  • Released: Apr 11, 1997

Customer Ratings