Bessie Smith (1894–1937) was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 15th April 1894. She had a passion for music from a young age and grew up performing on the streets with her brother before joining a travelling minstrel show, the Moss Stokes Company, where she was discovered by legendary blues vocalist Ma Rainey. She eventually signed with Columbia Records in 1923. Her powerful, soulful voice quickly elevated her to become one of the highest-paid black singers of all time, with Columbia Records nicknaming her “Queen of the Blues”, but the press quickly upgraded this to “the Empress of the Blues”. ‘Down-Hearted Blues’, her most successful record, sold over two million copies. She famously collaborated with Louis Armstrong on the tracks ‘Cold in Hand Blues’ and ‘St Louis Blues’. Her songs focused on themes of oppression, poverty, love and betrayal.
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