Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bessie Smith: In Memoriam

Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 15, 1894. As an adult, Bessie was what my uncle Mack would call a "big ol’ fine woman!" She stood around 6 feet tall and weighed in excess of 200 lbs. She was a heavy weight, big boned, thick, dark and lovely, big beautiful woman (BBW) of African descent; an Empress. Did I say Empress?

Yes, they called her the Empress of the Blues. She knew the Blues personally and sang them like the evening news. Bessie could curse and caress in the same breath. She was a very quiet and sweet woman, but with her money and feelings you couldn’t mess. She loved hard liquor, hard men, but a woman soft and sweet she’d take. She was an equal opportunity lover and in her lyrics she wouldn’t fake. She’d croon:


“I ain’t no high yella, I’m a deep killer brown.
I ain’t gonna marry, ain’t gonna settle down.
I’m gonna drink good moonshine and rub these browns down,
See that long lonesome road, Lawd you know it’s gonna end,
And I’m a good woman and I can get plenty men…”


Bessie would wail while patrons swooned over the queen that was broader than Broadway and just as bright. She helped to pave the way for many that would come. She was the Empress of the Blues. It was early one Sunday morning on September 26, 1937 as the story goes. Bessie was traveling in Dixie through Clarksdale when her career took a bad turn; a car accident. It was in that crooked letter state. It was where Emmett Till would meet his fate. Yes, Mississippi!


“Trouble, trouble, I’ve had it all my days,
Trouble, trouble, I’ve had it all my days,
It seems that trouble’s going to follow me to my grave.”


Bessie would also meet her fate that morning. The car that she was in hit a parked panel truck and overturned. There was extensive damage to the Empress. There was internal bleeding and bruises and cuts about her neck and face. The accident nearly severed one of her big, beautiful arms. It was one of the arms that she’d greet with, cut with, fight with, and love with. In the end, Jim Crow wouldn’t let her go to a white hospital so she died on the way to the colored one. The Empress was gone. She passed the baton on to singers like Billie Holiday and Carmen McCrae. She would also influence contemporary artist like Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin and Norah Jones. In 1970, singers Janis Joplin and Juanita Green shared the cost for a proper tomb stone on Bessie’s unmarked grave. It was the only proper thing to do for this Empress who impacted so many lives.


Yes, they called her the Empress of the Blues. She knew the Blues personally and sang them like the evening news.

This poem is featured in Liquid Lunch:  Blues-Inspired poetry:


Note: Bessie Smith was a great woman. One of the things that I love about Bessie is that she looks familiar. There are women in my family that share her statue and complexion. She looks like so many women that I've known or have seen on the streets and subways. God Rest her soul.


Sources: bluesnet.hub.org, wikipedia, and britannica.com

Find out more about the Empress at: Blues Online© Bessie Smith.
Post a Comment

This is America Symbolism

Like many, I am intrigued by Donald Glover's (Aka. Childish Gambino) new video, "This is America." I have been a fan of Gl...