Bessie Smith was called the “Empress of the Blues,” famed for her ability to be both regal and sensual in song and style. She was also the highest paid African American entertainer of her generation from her early days performing on Chattanooga street corners and her travels on the black vaudeville circuit to her decade as a top selling recording artist touring in her own railroad car. We hear about Bessie Smith from artists who knew her personally as well as an historian and anthropologist who has studied her life and performances. Also, Bessie Smith songs from Alberta Hunter, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Catherine Russell; and a conversation with Annika Chambers, a 21st century blueswoman.
Photo by Carl Van Vechten, restored by Adam Cuerden