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Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith was referred to as the Empress of Blues. She was born in 1892 and was one of the most popular singers of the 20s and 30s, her style still influencing blues and jazz singing today.

She made 160 recordings for Columbia, with many of the greats of the day, including Louis Armstrong. Her songs focused on the African American working class and challenged the norms put on her by the surrounding culture. She sang about her self-expression, her sexuality, self-empowerment and the right to let loose to cope with the stresses of life.

 

Profile photo:

Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964, photographer

Library of Congress