This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for April 15, 2017: Some nights you're blessed

Apr. 15, 2017: birthday: Bessie Smith

It’s the birthday of ‘the Empress of the Blues’ Bessie Smith, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee (1898). As a child, Smith sang and danced on street corners for coins. Her career began when blues singer Ma Rainey & her Rabbit Foot Minstrels came through Chattanooga, saw Bessie Smith, and took her on the road with them. A decade later, in 1923, Smith’s first recording, Down Hearted Blues, sold more than two-million copies in the first year alone. She lived hard, and that became part of her appeal. Tall and strong and sexy, she got in fist-fights, made no secret of her love affairs, and preferred gin, downing an entire tumbler at a time. The 150 blues numbers she recorded – backed by such great jazzmen as Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Goodman – dealt with poverty, unrequited love, and cruelty. She died in Mississippi in 1937 after the car she in which she was riding rear-ended a slow-moving truck. Her best known tunes are “Downhearted Blues” (1923), “St. Louis Blues,” with Louis Armstrong on trumpet (1925), and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” (1929).