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Bessie Smith's Legacy of Activism

Bessie Smith, a widely famous Blues artist, left her mark on the world of music. Born into poverty, Smith overcame numerous obstacles to become one of the most celebrated blues singers of the 1920s-1930s.

Bessie's early exposure to music came through the streets of Chattanooga, where she sang and danced for pennies. When she turned 9, she joined a traveling minstrel show, where she emerged into the role of a performer.

In 1923, Bessie Smith signed with Columbia Records. Her first recording, "Downhearted Blues," was an instant hit. This record sold 800,000 copies within six months. This accomplishment made her one of the best-selling artists of her time and established her as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.

Through Smith's talent and perseverance, she challenged racial barriers and demanded respect and recognition for black performers. Despite her fame and fortune, Bessie Smith remained deeply connected to her roots and frequently gave back to her community. She was known for her generosity, often lending financial support to struggling musicians and friends in need.

Smith's lyrics often tackled taboo subjects such as sexuality, infidelity, and poverty. Songs like "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" and "Empty Bed Blues" respectively covered sexuality and infidelity; topics like this pushed the boundaries of acceptable discourse at the time but also resonated with audiences for their raw honesty and authenticity.

Despite her success, Bessie Smith's life was not without its hardships. In 1937, at the age of 43, she tragically lost her life in a car accident while traveling between shows. Bessie Smith's influence on the blues and popular music cannot be overstated. She left an indelible mark on the world of music and paved the way for future generations of black, queer, and female performers. During women's history month, it's important that we honor and reflect on the legacy of the Empress of Blues, Bessie Smith and all that she has inspired and accomplished.


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