The Blues: Bessie Smith and the role of women in the Blues. From the beginning, the Blues was a genre associated with African American working class culture, and within that culture social relations between men and women took a different turn than in the majority white American society…
Bessie Smith was born to a poor African American family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was brought up by her older sister because her parents both died very young. This hard start in life, moving from house to house without a stable home environment, is the classic stuff of the Blues, and she got involved in singing with other family members initially as a way to earn money to feed herself and her siblings. Many details about Bessie’s early life are not known, and this is mainly because the lives of black people were often not considered remarkable enough to be documented accurately. Evidence of her school career and early singing activities is, for example sketchy. It is likely that she experienced singing in the Church, since her father was a part time preacher as well as a day labourer, and in the street, since that is where she would have spent a lot of time as a child. It appears that Bessie started her performing career with her brother in the streets near her home, and then gradually progressing to various roles in Vaudeville and travelling “tent shows” which appeared frequently in Chattanooga due to the town’s strong connections with railway companies. (Scott, 2008, p. 92) Much of this early work was in supporting roles, such as chorus singing. As a young woman without parents to chaperone her, Bessie had a freedom to experience all the excitement, and of course the danger and immorality, that surrounded the music scene in the black communities of the South. Bessie’s singing talent and huge personality made an impression with music publishers and soon she began to record songs made famous by other female singers like Ma Rainey, adding her own personal style, and incidentally creating a fashion for “cover” records which then took hold of the music publishing world. (Davis, 1995, p. 76) Although Bessie Smith died tragically in an automobile accident at the age of only forty three, she was one of the most distinctive voices of the early Blues period. Bessie Smith’s singing talent was the key to her success but added to this was her larger than life personality and her commanding physique. As a large and confident black woman she dressed lavishly and obviously enjoyed the star status that her career had brought her. The beauty that she had was of a different kind than the ideals of the age: instead of the slim and tailored look that professional women chose, Bessie opted for flamboyant styles and exuberant colors. This was not a woman who could be easily overlooked in a room full of people. Her voice was loud and deep, but with a very subtle flexibility that made it ideal for the nuances of sadness that the early Blues lyrics required. Bessie sang the popular blues songs of the day, most famously the title song “St Louis Blues” for the famous film of that name, but she also wrote her own material which indicated an assertive, rebellious, and very womanly perspective on the world. The lyrics to her song, “Young Woman’s Blues” for example, promote the lifestyle of a wandering singer, deliberately choosing to reject conformity and the attractions of respectable married life, which emulated white society’s standards: “I’m as good as any woman in your town, I ain’t no high yella, I’m a deep killer brown. “I ain’t gonna marry, ain’t gon’ settle down. I’m gon’ drink good moonshine and run these browns down.” ...
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(The Blues Research Paper Example | Topics and Well Written Essays - 1250 Words)
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