Bessie Smith was one of the major pioneers of our time, especially for the gay community. She was an outspoken, vivacious jazz musician who recorded over 200 songs. She attracted many to the blues and jazz scene with her raw talent and bravery. Despite the conservative times of the 30s, Bessie was not shy nor secretive about her sexuality. She broke through many gender, love and racial barriers due to this fact. Many of her songs were about her personal and love life. In her songs, she sang openly about her love of women, and men as well as her two marriages. Sadly, her life was cut short due to a tragic car accident in 1937. She was only 43 years old.
However, just because she was outspoken, did not mean that the world was ready to talk about her just yet. That has all changed until now. Due to changes in culture and the entertainment society as a whole, the world is now ready to hear and talk about this pioneer. A movie starring Queen Latifah as Bessie, in the same titled movie by HBO will show the world her majestic majesty. The movie is scheduled to premier May 16th.
Check Out These Fun Fact About Bessie Smith:
1. She was born in abject poverty in Tennessee in 1892, but was so beloved when she died that some ten thousand people walked by her coffin to pay tribute to her.
2. 1960’s rock star Janis Joplin once told friends she felt like she was Bessie Smith reincarnated. It was Joplin who saw to it that a headstone was provided for Bessie Smith’s grave 35 years after she was killed in a 1937 car accident. Joplin chose an epitaph that named Smith- The Greatest Blues Singer in the World.
3. During an outdoor performance in North Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan surrounded Bessie’s tent. She confronted them angrily shouting and ordering, “You just pick up them sheets and run!” The Klansmen were shocked. They quickly turned around and disappeared into the night.
5. In 1929 Bessie debuted in her first film St. Louis Blues. It was based on a jazz song called St. Louis Blues recorded by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong.
7. Bessie adopted a little boy. When she and her husband divorced- in an act of vindictiveness her husband turned the boy into authorities saying Bessie had mistreated the child. She lost custody of him.
8. Bessie had her own private train custom-made and paid for by Columbia records because as a black person she was not permitted in the ‘whites only’ first class cars of trains. Her train had seven staterooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
9. Bessie’s popularity led to her earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. In her day she made more money and sold more records than any other blues musician.
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