At an early age, Bessie Smith and her brother Andrew became street performers: She sang and did dance steps while he accompanied her on the guitar. She first married in , a man named Earl Love, a soldier from Mississippi, and after he died she married nightwatchman Jack Gee in In , she informally adopted "Snooks," the six-year-old son of one of her chorus girls chorines , and later renamed him Jack Gee, Jr.
Bessie Smith was bisexual, and had many affairs with men and women, mostly side men and chorines in her retinue. Significant, long-lasting relationships included Fred Longshaw, her musical director; Lillian Simpson, an old classmate; and Richard Morgan, a married businessman who became her troupe manager.
In , Smith had her first professional gig. She was hired as a dancer by the vaudeville company Moses Stokes, where her brother Clarence had been hired a couple of years earlier. The cast included Will and Gertrude Rainey.
Gertrude, or Ma Rainey , is known as the "Mother of the Blues"; she was undoubtedly an influence on Bessie Smith's beginnings. By , Bessie Smith regularly worked at the "81" club in Atlanta, eventually becoming the star attraction of the Theater Owners' Booking Association TOBA chain, a major black vaudeville circuit organization for which 81 was a key venue. Columbia recording studio impresario Frank Walker first heard Bessie in or so he later claimed , and in , Walker arranged for her first recording. When the recording was released, it became a solid hit, with , copies sold in the first six months.
Smith stayed with Columbia Records until She recorded songs between and her death in Smith's career included long-term runs at major venues, playing to packed houses throughout the twenties in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, and Memphis. Her contract with TOBA made her the highest paid black performer in the country.
By , Smith was already known as the "Queen of the Blues" thanks to her clear, expressive voice. Louis Blues. Handy and Kenneth W. Adams, and in it, Bessie sang the song accompanied by James P.
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Elizabeth; Zepernick, Janet Women and Rhetoric between the Wars. Southern Illinois University Press. Retrieved February 17, University of Massachusetts Press. In Kernfield, Barry, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
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Appalachian Classic Blues Singers: Bessie Smith | Special Collections at Belk Library
Louis Blues. Book:Bessie Smith. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Class of Harris , E. Phil Spector. Inductees to the National Women's Hall of Fame. Margaret Sanger Sojourner Truth. Carrie Chapman Catt Frances Perkins. Belva Lockwood Lucretia Mott. Gertrude Belle Elion. Walker Faye Wattleton Rosalyn S.
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