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Although she was almost completely unknown to the white population, Bessie Smith came to symbolize the black rennasiance. As the Empress of the Blues, she was a best selling vocalist during the mid-1920s.

Her ability to control her voice set her apart from the shouters. She was able to control inflection, moaning, growling, and lyricism and clearly demonstrated versitality.

However, the audience demanded more than great singing; and the queen delivered. She wore lavish gowns on stage while singing in a seductive and powerful voice.

Due to her lack of success with white audiences, Bessie Smith never reached the level of Louie Armstrong. However, she is remembered in blues and jazz history as the queen.


Bessie Smith, born into poverty in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was discovered by Ma Rainey at the age of eleven. In her youth she performed at tent shows and record shops, but would eventually make 160 records. The end of the twenties marked the end of her style of blues and the decline of her popularity. She died in a car auto reck in Mississippi.
Cited Works

Baughman, Judith S. American Decades: 1920 - 1929.
     New York : Gale Research, 1996.