Bessie Smith: selected recordings, 1923-1926

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Bessie Smith

Excerpt from the Wikipedia profile:

Life
To earn money for their impoverished household, Bessie Smith and her brother Andrew began busking on the streets of Chattanooga as a duo: she singing and dancing, he accompanying her on guitar. Their favorite location was in front of the White Elephant Saloon at Thirteenth and Elm streets in the heart of the city’s African-American community.

In 1904, her oldest brother, Clarence, covertly left home by joining a small traveling troupe owned by Moses Stokes. “If Bessie had been old enough, she would have gone with him,” said Clarence’s widow, Maud. “That’s why he left without telling her, but Clarence told me she was ready, even then. Of course, she was only a child.”[4]

In 1912, Clarence returned to Chattanooga with the Stokes troupe. He arranged for its managers, Lonnie and Cora Fisher, to give Smith an audition. She was hired as a dancer rather than a singer, because the company also included the notable singer Ma Rainey.

By the early 1920s, Smith had starred with Sidney Bechet in How Come?, a musical that made its way to Broadway. She spent several years working out of Atlanta, Georgia’s 81 Theater, and performing in black theaters along the East Coast. Following a run-in with the producer of How Come?, Smith was replaced by Alberta Hunter and returned to Philadelphia, where she had taken up residence.

Career
All contemporary accounts indicate that while [Ma] Rainey did not teach Smith to sing, she probably helped her develop a stage presence.Smith began forming her own act around 1913, at Atlanta’s “81” Theater. By 1920 Smith had established a reputation in the South and along the Eastern Seaboard.

In 1920, sales figures for “Crazy Blues,” an Okeh Records recording by singer Mamie Smith (no relation) pointed to a new market. The recording industry had not directed its product to blacks, but the success of the record led to a search for female blues singers. Bessie Smith was signed by Columbia Records in 1923 and her first session for Columbia was February 15, 1923. For most of 1923, her records were issued on Columbia’s regular A- series; when the label decided to establish a “race records” series, Smith’s “Cemetery Blues” (September 26, 1923) was the first issued.

She scored a big hit with her first release, a coupling of “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Downhearted Blues”, which its composer Alberta Hunter had already turned into a hit on the Paramount label. Smith became a headliner on the black T.O.B.A. circuit and rose to become its top attraction in the 1920s. Working a heavy theater schedule during the winter months and doing tent tours the rest of the year (eventually traveling in her own railroad car), Smith became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day. Columbia nicknamed her “Queen of the Blues,” but a PR-minded press soon upgraded her title to “Empress”.

She made some 160 recordings for Columbia, often accompanied by the finest musicians of the day, most notably Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Joe Smith, Charlie Green and Fletcher Henderson.

Redhotjazz.com says,

In 1923 she made her recording debut on Columbia, accompanied by pianist Clarence Williams. They recorded “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Down Hearted Blues.” The record sold more than 750,000 copies that same year, rivaling the success of Blues singer Mamie Smith (no relation). Throughout the 1920s Smith recorded with many of the great Jazz musicians of that era, including Fletcher Henderson, James P. Johnson, Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman and Louis Armstrong. Her rendition of “St. Louis Blues” with Armstrong is considered by most critics to be one of finest recordings of the 1920s. Bessie Smith was one of the biggest African-American stars of the 1920s and was popular with both Whites and African-Americans…(read more)

RECORDINGS 1923-1926

1923

Down Hearted Blues (Alberta Hunter, Lovie Austin) –  Bessie Smith, vocal; accompanied on piano by Clarence Williams – 16 February 1923, NY

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Gulf Coast Blues (Clarence Williams) Bessie Smith (v), Clarence Williams (p)

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Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do (Porter Grainger, E. Robbins) – Bessie Smith (v) Clarence Williams (p) – 26 April 1923, NY

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Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (Charles Warfield, Clarence Williams) – one of several songs for which Clarence Williams received partial songwriting credit that has been disputed. In their book Spreadin’ Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters, 1880-1930, authors Jason and Jones write (as quoted by jazzstandards.com)

“Charles Warfield, the Chicago pianist who claimed to have been cheated out of ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ by Spencer Williams, said that he wrote ‘Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?’ Warfield’s name is on the song along with Williams’[s]…”

Beale Street Mama (Roy Turk / J. Russell Robinson) – recorded 11 April 1923 — Bessie Smith accompanied by her Down Home Trio. The identity of each member of the band is questioned by Red Hot Jazz. However the provider of the following video seems confident that the lineup of the trio was Ernest Elliott (Clarinet), Clarence Williams (Piano), Buddy Christian (Banjo). There were two recording sessions in 1923, a total of four songs recorded by Smith with this band.

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1924

The Haunted House Blues (J. C. Johnson) – recorded 9 January 1924, backed by unidentified piano and clarinet

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Weeping Willow Blues (Pam Carter) – Bessie Smith (vocal), Joe Smith (cornet), Charlie Green (trombone), Fletcher Henderson (piano) – recorded 26 September 1924

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Sing Sing Prison Blues (Porter Grainger / Freddie Johnson) —  recorded 6 December 1924 — Bessie Smith (vocal); Don Redman (clarinet); Fred Longshaw (piano)

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Sinful Blues (Perry Bradford) – recorded 11 December 1924 — Bessie Smith (v, kazoo), Fred Longshaw (p)

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1925

St. Louis Blues (W. C. Handy) – recorded 14 January 1925 — backed by Louis Armstrong on cornet and Fred Longshaw on harmonium.

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Cold In Hand Blues (Jack Gee / Fred Longshaw) recorded 14 January 1925 — this and Reckless Blues (below) were recorded at the same session as St. Louis Blues — Bessie Smith (vocal), Louis Armstrong (cornet), Fred Longshaw (piano)

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Reckless Blues (Jack Gee / Fred Longshaw) – 14 January 1925 – Armstrong (c), Longshaw (p)

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Cakewalkin’ Babies (From Home) (Clarence Williams / Chris Smith / Henry Troy) recorded 6 May 1925 –  Bessie Smith accompanied by Henderson’s Hot Six

musicians (acc. The Red Hot Jazz Archives*):

Bessie Smith (vocal)
Joe Smith (cornet)
Charlie Green (trombone)
Buster Bailey (clarinet)
Fletcher Henderson (piano)
Charlie Dixon (banjo)

* musician credits: Redhotjazz.com does not include either Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone) and Bob Escudero (tuba) as credited in the lineup given by the video provider. The Red Hot Jazz Archive lists only three recordings by this group, which it confusingly calls “Bessie Smith accompanied by Henderson’s Hot Six,” though the total is six members including her.

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Yellow Dog Blues (W. C. Handy)  – record 6 May 1925 — accompanied by Henderson’s Hot Six — same lineup as for Cake Walking Babies, above except (according to the provider) Escudero switches from tuba to double bass.

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I Ain’t Got Nobody (Abel Baer / Samuel Lewis / Joseph Young) – recorded 19 August 1925 – Bessie Smith and Her Band

Bessie Smith (vocal)
Bob Fuller (clarinet)
Isadore Myers (piano)
Elmer Snowden (banjo)

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Florida Bound Blues (Clarence Williams) – recorded 17 November 1925 with Clarence Williams on piano

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Nashville Woman’s Blues (Fred Longshaw) – recorded 26 May 1925 — Bessie Smith (v), Louis Armstrong (cor), Charlie Green (tb), Fred Longshaw (p)

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1926

Fletcher Henderson and Buster Bailey

1926

Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town (George Brooks) – recorded 18 March 1926 Bessie Smith (v0, Buster Bailey (cl) Fletcher Henderson (p)

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Baby Doll (Bessie Smith, H. Webman) – recorded 4 May 1926 — Bessie Smith (v), Joe Smith (cor), Fletcher Henderson (p)

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Young Woman’s Blues (Bessie Smith) – recorded by Bessie Smith and Her Blue Boys on 26 October 1926

Bessie Smith (vocals)
Joe Smith (cornet)
Buster Bailey (clarinet)
Fletcher Henderson (piano)

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(below) While all sources that I’ve checked credit Bessie Smith as the author of the song, the Japanese Columbia label included in this video credits the song to “Brooks,” which likely refers to “George Brooks,” an alias of Fletcher Henderson.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Steven M Nathan
    Jun 04, 2015 @ 23:11:58

    Awesome Music outstanding.

    Reply

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