Bessie Smith was born in a shack in Chattanooga, Tennessee around 1894. Black birth certificates were not kept very well back then, but that is the assumed date. In those times black women did not have many choices for careers, but Bessies talent proved to be more than enough to give her a life as an entertainer.
She began singing on street corners, her brother playing the guitar. In 1912 Bessies brother got her an audition with Vaudeville, a traveling group of entertainers. She got the job and was befriended by Ma Rainy, who was called the mother of the blues. Ma Rainy gave Bessie the guidance to become the Blues legend she is today.
1923 was a big year for Bessie, she got married to a man named Jack G. and she recorded her first album for Columbia records, which sold 780,000 copies. Despite her success she did not receive as much money as she should have, but more than most blacks did. Bessie also starred in St. Louis Blues as movie about a woman named Bessie who was driven to drink because of her cheating husband. A story which rang true to her real life.
During the depression she divorced because her husband had found a new woman. She also lost her contract with Columbia. She later remarried, a man named Richard Morgan.
In 1937 Bessie was singing again and there were promises of more movie parts. One day as the couple left Memphis they had a fatal car crash. The details surrounding the accident are fuzzy, but it is rumored that Bessie was taken to a white hospital and refused treatment, then she was taken to a black hospital where she was said to be dead on arrival.
It is a shame that such a promising life was cut short. It is even sadder if the rumors are true. Racism is a sick, sad thing, makes you wonder how big Bessie Smith could have been if those boundaries had not been there.
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