By Chris Albertson
This book—a revised and multiplied variation of the definitive biography of Bessie Smith, referred to as the “Empress of the Blues”—debunks some of the myths that circulated after her premature loss of life in 1937. For this new version, Chris Albertson presents extra information of Bessie’s early years, new interview fabric, and a bankruptcy dedicated to occasions and responses that the unique publication.“The first estimable full-length biography not just of Bessie Smith yet of any black musician.”—Whitney Balliett, New Yorker (on the 1st edition)“A remarkably clear-eyed exam of Smith’s character (and sexuality) and, extra vital, of the gritty and grasping tune business.”—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly“A vibrant portrait of this vital American diva."—Will Friedwald, ny Sun“The so much devastating, provocative, and enlightening paintings of its type ever contributed to the annals of jazz literature.”—Leonard Feather, la instances (on the 1st edition)“An exemplary biography . . . [with] a gripping, frequently relocating, narrative.”—John Mole, occasions Literary complement
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Extra info for Bessie: Revised and expanded edition
By 1922, Bessie had built up a loyal following throughout the South and along the Eastern seaboard. She was now living in Philadelphia, one of the cities that had been hardest hit by the 1918 flu epidemic, and she was ready for prime time. As America experienced a cultural revolution and countered the mindset that fostered World War I, times were changing in Bessie’s favor. A societal transition was under way, the stiff-collared, pince-nez generation was being shown the door and the new generation that lined up had a very different look, for lurking in all of this was fodder for a feminist movement that would resurface in full force almost half a century later.
Thanks to blues artists like Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, and the great Ma Rainey, Paramount soon gave the full-time record companies competition in the race market. Its recording activity centered around Chicago, which put Bessie out of its geographical range, but for Bessie, that was a blessing in disguise—Paramount’s poor technical quality would not have done her voice justice. With all this interest in the blues, with the hopeful and the hopeless being hustled into recording studios, it seems strange that Bessie—already widely known as a blues singer with extraordinary drawing power—had to wait two 26 Bessie The author goes over lyrics with Ida Cox at her 1961 Riverside recording session.
If you didn’t have it in the bank, there was something new called the installment plan. Although blacks experienced few changes for the better, the lifestyle of middle-class whites was improving conspicuously, and the contrast brought into even sharper focus the financial and social inequities that continued to feed the simmering racial divide. The entertainment industry also had its imbalance, but a smattering of inherent glamour made it less obvious; Bessie probably worked as hard as Viola, but she was having fun doing it, and there was a reward in every burst of audience applause, every gale of laughter.
Bessie: Revised and expanded edition by Chris Albertson