C.C. Rider the Venerator: Bessie Smith

A mean temper, with a mouth like a sailor, a penchant for whiskey, and a taste for both men and women, Bessie Smith lived a life that would drop the jaws of even the baddest rock star.

This is the latest from The Bluesmobile’s C.C. Rider, who spends her life venerating the founding fathers of the blues. She’s walked the crooked highways of this singing country to resurrect the voices of the past. With the dirt of the Delta on her hands, she sleeps in the shadow of the giants on whose shoulders popular music now stands.

Bessie Smith

(April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937)

A mean temper, with a mouth like a sailor, a penchant for whiskey, and a taste for both men and women, Bessie Smith lived a life that would drop the jaws of even the baddest rock star. Slept with her backup dancers, beat up rivals, took part in orgies, all while traveling the country in a custom-built private train-car.

Bessie Smith was born in 1894, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  She busked the streets as a pre-teen, and by her eighteenth birthday she was a professional dancer. When the very first records came out, Bessie was almost 30 years old. In 1921 Bessie travelled to New York to cut a track for Columbia.  But they turned her down. “Too rough,” they said. Two years later, she tried again. This time it was a smash.

“Downhearted Blues” sold almost a million copies in the first 6 months alone. Soon enough, the woman they called “too rough” was dubbed the Empress. A national treasure. Rolling in money, in furs, in women and men, and sailing on her monster talent. Bessie Smith’s life was short, what she accomplished in her 43 years was more than a couple lifetimes worth. But maybe I should keep my mouth shut.  As the Empress says… “T’aint Nobody’s Business.”

 

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