BESSIE SMITH:

Blues legend Bessie Smith was born dirt poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee around 1894. She started singing as a young child. When she got older, she tried to get a record deal. Three different record companies rejected her for sounding too raw and too loud but Columbia signed her in 1923. Within a year her first recordings sold millions and her signature song became, “Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do.”

One summer, she and husband Jack Gee were said to have spent $16,000 and she was known to spend cash for cars. Her drinking binges were famous. She would enter a bar and lay a hundred dollars on the counter, after which there were unlimited drinks for everyone as they all partied.

Her temper was legendary too. She hit anybody who annoyed or messed with her man or woman (she was allegedly bi-sexual). One day, she has suspicions that her husband was fooling around, she chased him down a railroad track while firing a pistol at him. Another time, when a young woman buckled and withdrew after being publicly kissed by Bessie, the girl was given such a dressing down by Bessie that thereafter she was kissed where and when the Empress wanted.

Bessie also traveled with her own entourage in her private railroad car. In 1937, she set out on a tour of the South. Bessie’s car crashed into a truck and her right arm was nearly severed as she lay bleeding for hours on a lonely country road. Hot water from the radiator also burned her skin. When a white cop arrived on the scene, instead of summoning help, he stood over her, questioning her, ‘How can a gal like you afford to be riding in this kind of car? This is what happens when N***ers drive.’ Bessie weakly said, ‘Please help me.’

She was finally transported to a hospital where she died from her injuries.

Source: “Brown Sugar” by Donald Bogle.

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