Monday Open Thread |Our Gems Week: Bessie Smith

This week we will remember those that I call ‘ Our Gems’.


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Bessie Smith Biography
Singer (1894–1937)

Jazz and blues vocalist Bessie Smith’s powerful, soulful voice won her countless fans and earned her the title “Empress of the Blues.”


Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 15, 1894. She began to sing at a young age and in 1923 signed a contract with Columbia Records. Soon she was among the highest-paid black performers of her time with hits like “Downhearted Blues.” By the end of the 1920s, however, her popularity had lessened, though she continued to perform and made new recordings at the start of the Swing Era. Her comeback and life were cut short from an automobile accident outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi, with Smith dying from her injuries on September 26, 1937.

Early Life

Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was one of seven children. Her father, a Baptist minister, died soon after her birth, leaving her mother to raise her and her siblings. Around 1906, her mother and two of her brothers died and Smith and her remaining siblings were raised by their aunt. It was around this time that Smith began to perform as a street singer, accompanied on the guitar by one of her younger brothers. In 1912, Smith began performing as a dancer in the Moses Stokes minstrel show, and soon thereafter in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, of which blues vocalist Ma Rainey was a member. Rainey took Smith under her wing, and over the next decade Smith continued to perform at various theaters and on the vaudeville circuit.

The Empress of the Blues

By the early 1920s, Smith had settled down and was living in Philadelphia, and in 1923 she met and married a man named Jack Gee. That same year, she was discovered by a representative from Columbia Records, with whom she signed a contract and made her first song recordings. Among them was a track titled “Downhearted Blues,” which was wildly popular and sold an estimated 800,000 copies, propelling Smith into the blues spotlight. With her rich, powerful voice, Smith soon became a successful recording artist and toured extensively. Going forward with an idea presented by her brother and business manager Clarence, Smith eventually bought a custom railroad car for her traveling troupe to travel and sleep in.

In her recording career, Bessie Smith worked with many important jazz performers, such as saxophonist Sidney Bechet and pianists Fletcher Henderson and James P. Johnson. With Johnson, she recorded one of her most famous songs, “Backwater Blues.” Smith also collaborated with the legendary jazz artist Louis Armstrong on several tunes, including “Cold in Hand Blues” and “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle.” By the end of the 1920s, Smith was the highest-paid black performer of her day, and had earned herself the title “Empress of the Blues.

Decline and Revival

However, at the height of her success, Bessie Smith’s career began to flounder, due in part to the financial ravages of the Great Depression and a change in cultural mores. In 1929 she and Jack Gee permanently separated, and by the end of 1931 Smith had stopped working with Columbia altogether. However, ever the dedicated performer, Smith adapted her repertoire and continued to tour. In 1933, Smith was contacted by producer John Hammond to make new recordings, which hinted at the coming Swing Era.

Death and Legacy

Over the next few years, Smith continued to perform. However, on September 26, 1937, Smith was en route to a show in Memphis, Tennessee with her companion of many years, Richard Morgan, when he sideswiped a truck and lost control of their car. Smith was thrown from the vehicle and badly injured. She died of her wounds in a Clarkdale, Mississippi hospital. She was 43.

Smith’s funeral was held in Philadelphia a week later, with thousands coming to pay their respects. She was buried in Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania.

Since her death, Bessie Smith’s music continues to win over new fans, and collections of her songs have continued to sell extremely well over the years. She has been a primary influence for countless female vocalists—including Billie Holliday, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin—and has been immortalized in numerous works. A comprehensive, acclaimed bio on her life—Bessie, by journalist Chris Albertson—was published in 1972 and expanded in 2003. An HBO film loosely based on the book is slated to air in 2015, with Queen Latifah (who also executive produced the project) portraying Smith and Mo’Nique playing Ma Rainey.

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32 Responses to Monday Open Thread |Our Gems Week: Bessie Smith

  1. eliihass says:

    Hey SG, I went back to read your tweet to the lady trolling FLOTUS – and to see her response if any to you…Twitter is crazy and it seems like all the crazies come out to play…I don’t know how you do it chica…I applaud you…I do love though, that there are some serious FLOTUS stans who push back …I browsed the tweets of some, and they were not playing – warmed my heart…

    I found this tweet from some guy I suspect is an employee at the new U.S embassy in Cuba…somehow in most of the coverage as usual – much of the really powerful and positive stuff like this about FLOTUS is completely blacked out…and we don’t see or hear anything like or about this..

  2. eliihass says:

    Sorry, had this on wrong thread..

    FLOTUS was originally supposed to visit a high school as I recall from earlier talks about this trip…It looks like the Cuban government controlled much of where they had access to and who they could meet with…so in the end, most of the afro-Cubans were shut out from this historic visit…what else is new…I don’t know why or how this happened, but more importantly, according to this article, afro-Cuban students were also mostly missing from FLOTUS’ event – which was apparently not shown, but blacked-out too…these black girls were who needed to hear her more than ever…And apparently, just as I imagined, FLOTUS has a very special place in hearts of the afro-Cuban women…

    Read on…

    “…HAVANA, Cuba—President Barack Obama’s historic to Cuba this week has had all the trappings of a typical guy’s weekend: Two men putting aside past differences to make nice on politics, talk optimistically about business, and then watch a little baseball.

    For many Cubans the fact that Obama brought his whole family to their island is a very important gesture that underscores the strong blood ties that have long existed between the two nations.

    And the fact that the first family is African American seems to be an added source of pride and inspiration for many black Cubans.

    “Since the days of Spanish rule, it’s been the white race that’s been in power and making decisions here. I’ve never seen someone my color in government,” says Daylí, a 24-year-old waitress in Havana.

    Mrs. Obama, in particular, represents a woman of strong family values and individual empowerment. She plays the roles of wife, mom and role model—and Cubans seem to appreciate that solid multitasking performance.

    “We are very happy that Obama and Michelle are visiting with their kids, who are lovely,” says Marilin Montez, who stopped to talk to me as she walked through downtown Havana with her daughter, Odesa Maria de los Santos. “The fact that the U.S. has a black first lady sets an example for the whole world.”

    The Obama family’s visit to Cuba is a moment of both inspiration and hope.

    “I hope the first lady and president Obama help bring lots of changes, all the changes that we have needed here for a long time,” Beatriz, a 23-year-old Havana resident told me as she passed by the Parque de la Fraturnidad. “I would love to see the first lady, but I can’t—not even on TV, because we don’t have a TV in my house.”

    Beatriz might have been disappointed with Cuban TV had she a set to watch. Local programming this week didn’t give much air time to the first lady’s visit, but did loop President Obama’s lengthy meeting with Raul Castro on Monday, in addition to other timeless revolutionary programming.

    While Mrs. Obama remained mostly out of the camera’s reach, she did hold a more intimate gathering on Monday with a group of 10 Cuban school girls to discuss matters of race and education.

    It was a heartfelt message, and one that might have resonated even louder with the black women gathered outside waiting to catch a glimpse of the first lady.

    “I am very happy because she is African American. She is our color and she has done something that nobody else has ever done,” said Yurdeki, a black woman who waited in the street outside the the Cuban Art Factory. “I am here because I want to see her and her daughters, because they are all beautiful.”

    “Despite the past relations between our two countries, she is here with her whole family. As a woman, I feel like this is a step forward and she feels identified with Cuban women,” added Elise Augusto, who also waited outside Mrs. Obama’s talk this morning. “Her visit here is very significant.”

    Others see the the first black U.S. presidency as a team effort.

    “I think that behind every strong man is a great woman,” says Elizabeth, a 28-year-old waitress. “I know she has had a part to play in improving relations with Cuba. She has contributed her opinions and ideas, because men always ask their wife about big decisions.”

    In the end, two is better than one…”

  3. Liza says:

    Rep Raul Grijalva of Arizona posted this on his Facebook page today:

    “I’m telling the whole state why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders in this Tuesday’s Arizona primary. Read all about it in the Arizona Republic: “The root causes of our broken ‪#‎immigration‬ system, which has caused struggles and divisions for many years now, stem from the draconian Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996. The militarization of our borders, the explosion of private prisons and the excessive-deportation regime started with this law – and Bernie understands that we need to fix it.””


  4. rikyrah says:



    Black People Twice As Likely To Be Arrested For Pot In Colorado And Washington — Where It’s Legal

    MAR 21, 2016 11:58 AM

    When Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, drug policy advocates and pot consumers believed racial drug arrests would drop dramatically. That logic inspired voters in Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Alaska to hit the polls two years later in favor of less restrictive pot laws.

    But it turns out that advocates and consumers were only half right. Drug arrests have plummeted overall, yet black people are still disproportionately arrested.

    Between 2008 and 2014, marijuana arrests decreased by 60 percent in Colorado and 90 percent in Washington. However, a study of FBI Uniform Crime Reports conducted by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice’s Mike Males concluded that black people in 2008 and 2014 were twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana — in both states.

    “I am surprised and disappointed by this,” Males told the Washington Post. “The forces that contribute to racial disparities under prohibition are clearly still in place after legalization.”

    According to a national study from the ACLU in 2013, black users are 3.73 more likely to be arrested for possession than their white counterparts, even though both groups use pot at the same rate. As a result, black people are disproportionately slapped with mandatory minimum sentences and languish in prison for decades even as more states consider legalization.

    Despite the positive ramifications that legalization was expected to have for African Americans, a recent Buzzfeed investigation found that they’re also left out of the weed market in states where the drug is legal.

    Thanks to centuries of oppression, the piece notes, black people who hope to profit from marijuana sales generally can’t afford the $250,000 start-up costs to get their businesses off of the ground. And banks are unable to give them business loans, because the federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal, insures them. With easier access to cash and property, white men dominate the legal industry.

  5. eliihass says:

    Hillary’s AIPAC speech was clearly written by at least 2 speechwriters…LOL…and she read parts of it like she wasn’t familiar with what she was reading…

    First part was done of course with input from Haim Saban and other Zionists…

    End part by one of those handlers borrowed from the President’s former team..

    Note: not one mention or even allusion to President Obama…LOL..Not even once…So much for wrapping herself around the President…But she sure did take plenty of credit for the stuff he and John Kerry have accomplished…When she spoke of the meeting with her, Abbas and Netanyahu, one would have thought she was the President…LOL..

    This is a preview to a future where this woman – heaven forbid – ever gets near that office…

    Also note the bit about how she will meet with the Israeli Prime Minister as soon as she takes office…and how she will immediately dispatch a delegation to Israel …” – which was all a direct jab at the President…

    Amusing that she has all these grand plans…yet, as Sec. of State, made absolutely no head way…nada…

    But the potential for serious whiplash for any thinking person listening to that speech – first hawking and blustering and threatening her way through the first and most part of the speech…and then getting all contradictory and near kumbaya at the end…

    Someone tell the woman she can’t pledge undying allegiance to Israel, bluster her way through most of the speech, and then claim to want peace, a resolution and kumbaya…

    • Liza says:

      I started thinking some time ago that Hillary’s legendary “intelligence” is a myth, blown way out of proportion.

      • eliihass says:

        LOL Liza…

        I’ve known it for a long time…

        Even with a supposedly smart, savvy and winning ex-president husband at her beck and call, and all the most touted and most expensive and outsized number of political operatives, advisers, policy and political talent, brain trust, on her payroll – and even with every top dog including the media backing her up, cheering her on and running interference on her behalf…And for having occupied some really high-profile positions that should typically and easily translate to a natural ease and comfortably and smartly spontaneous and unrehearsed factual responses to issues, she’s still painfully unremarkable and mostly resorts to and relies heavily on glaringly rehearsed and awkward stagecraft and choreography and poll-tested and focus group bits fed her…

        There are many who operate and effortlessly impress with significantly much less at their disposal…

        Even Bernie Sanders without any of the bells, whistles and trimmings, and especially none of the over-priced advisers, pollsters, speechwriters and policy and political operatives, still outshines her in many instances…

        Being authentic and principled and having character also doesn’t hurt…

  6. Ametia says:

    Vice President Biden will make a forceful call for Garland’s confirmation in a Thursday speech to students and faculty at Georgetown University Law Center.

    In a Medium post shared with The Post before its release, Biden previews his remarks, saying “all 100 senators have a duty to provide advice and consent on nominees [to] determine who sits on our nation’s highest court … The full Senate must be able to work its will.” More from Mike DeBonis: “Writing on a day when activists across the country are planning protests of the GOP blockade, Biden says the speech touches on ‘real-life consequences’ of an eight-member court divided 4-4 along ideological lines: ‘It’s dangerous. Every single American needs to know what it would mean.’ He also plans to speak ‘squarely to his colleagues.’ ‘Take a look at the argument you’re making. Consider, truly, whether it’s good for the country,’ Biden writes. ‘The track you’re on is a loss for the American people … Do the right thing.’”

  7. rikyrah says:


    Enjoy the President’s Cuba vist b/c based on @HillaryClinton tone in AIPAC speech the era of diplomacy is over. War & sanctions time.

    • Ametia says:

      SMH It’s very clear that Hillary is in Bibi N’s camp when it comes to Palestine-Israel conflict.

      She’ll surely show that Obama how to be Pro-Israel!


  8. rikyrah says:

    uh uh uh

    Giant’s safety Landon Collins Gets Engaged to Woman After Getting 3 Other GFs Pregnant at Same Time

  9. rikyrah says:

    A clarifying week for two different kinds of political parties
    03/18/16 12:49 PM
    By Steve Benen
    Almost immediately after President Obama introduced Judge Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court nominee, congressional Republicans said their unprecedented blockade strategy would remain in effect. It led National Journal’s Ron Fournier to say something unexpected.

    For those unfamiliar with Fournier’s work, the zealously centrist pundit has an unhealthy preoccupation with blaming “both sides” in every possible instance. But on Wednesday, the National Journal columnist declared, “I rarely come across a story where one side deserves 100% of blame. Congrats, GOP.” When it comes to the Republicans’ obstructionist tactics towards the Supreme Court vacancy, Fournier’s message to the party was simple: “You’ve stumped me.”

    Putting aside why any professional observer feels the need to examine a story while trying to blame both sides, Fournier’s concession was a rather striking reminder that even those who want to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt in the midst of their unprecedented tantrums can’t think of a credible defense.

    It’s been that kind of week, hasn’t it? While Senate Republicans were struggling to explain why they must reject a moderate Supreme Court nominee chosen to get their approval, Republican voters took another step toward making a bombastic political amateur and former reality-show host the party’s presidential nominee.

    Vox’s Ezra Klein raised an important point yesterday: “The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties has never been clearer.”
    There is a deep pull in political punditry toward asserting symmetry between the two political parties – whatever sins one party is guilty of, surely the other party is no better. But this was a week in which the pretense of symmetry between the modern Democratic and Republican parties fell away.

    The Democratic Party is acting like the political parties we have traditionally known in American politics: It is backing familiar politicians with deep institutional ties and, amidst divided government, nominating compromise figures with the potential for bipartisan appeal. The Republican Party, however, is moving in a different and worrying direction: It is nominating an inexperienced demagogue whose appeal is precisely that he has no institutional ties, and it is refusing to even consider compromise with the sitting president.

  10. rikyrah says:

    I have absolutely no sympathy. They re-elected him.

    Elections have consequences.


    From bad to worse for Sam Brownback’s Kansas
    03/18/16 04:39 PM
    By Steve Benen
    Not long after he made the transition from senator to governor in late 2010, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback boasted about his grand ambitions. The far-right Kansan, working with a GOP-led legislature, would cut taxes far beyond what the state could afford, in what Brownback described at the time as “a real-live experiment.”

    He was optimistic, though the Republican governor added at the time, “We’ll see how it works.”

    We sure will. In his first term, Brownback’s “experiment” led to debt downgrades, weak growth, and state finances in shambles. Perhaps the jobs picture is more heartening? Guess again. The Kansas City Star’s Yael Abouhalkah reported today on the state’s latest job numbers.
    Let this stunning news sink in: The Kansas jobs report released Friday shows the state lost another 1,900 jobs in February and now has 5,400 fewer jobs than it did one year ago.

    That’s right: The Sunflower State had a “growth” rate of negative 0.4 percent from February 2015 to February 2016, the first time that’s happened in more than five years. That negative employment rate is one of the worst in the nation.

    The same piece noted that, just a year ago during his re-election campaign, Brownback set a goal of 25,000 new jobs, per year, for a total of 100,000 new jobs in his second term. Eighteen months later, Kansas has created 1,600 jobs.

  11. rikyrah says:

    That’s right. He didn’t hijack shyt!

    The folks that make up your VOTERS are CHOOSING HIM.

    How can he HIJACK when he’s GETTING THE VOTES?



    Can we please retire the notion that Donald Trump is hijacking someone else’s party?

    By Frank Rich

    … The Republican Elites. The Establishment. The Party Elders. The Donor Class. The Mainstream. The Moderates. Whatever you choose to call them, they, at least, could be counted on to toss the party-­crashing bully out.

    To say it didn’t turn out that way would be one of the great understatements of American political history. Even now, many Republican elites, hedging their bets and putting any principles in escrow, have yet to meaningfully condemn Trump. McCain says he would support him if he gets his party’s nomination. The Establishment campaign guru who figured the Trump problem would solve itself moved on to anti-Trump advocacy and is now seeking to unify the party behind Trump, waving the same white flag of surrender as Chris Christie. Every major party leader — Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, Kevin McCarthy — has followed McCain’s example and vowed to line up behind whoever leads the ticket, Trump included. Even after the recurrent violence at Trump rallies boiled over into chaos in Chicago, none of his surviving presidential rivals would disown their own pledges to support him in November. Trump is not Hitler, but those who think he is, from Glenn Beck to Louis C.K., should note that his Vichy regime is already in place in Washington, D.C.

    Since last summer, Trump, sometimes in unwitting tandem with Bernie Sanders, has embarrassed almost the entire American political ecosystem — pollsters, pundits, veteran political operatives and the talking heads who parrot their wisdom, focus-group entrepreneurs, super-pac strategists, number-crunching poll analysts at FiveThirtyEight and its imitators. But of all the emperors whom Trump has revealed to have few or no clothes, none have been more conspicuous or consequential than the GOP elites. He has smashed the illusion, one I harbored as much as anyone, that there’s still some center-right GOP Establishment that could restore old-school Republican order if the crazies took over the asylum…

    Did the pillars of the Establishment fail to turn back the Trump insurgency because they have no balls? Because they have no credibility? Because they have too little support from voters in their own party? Because they don’t even know who those voters are or how to speak their language? To some degree, all these explanations are true. Though the Republican Establishment is routinely referenced as a potential firewall in almost every media consideration of Trump’s unexpected rise, it increasingly looks like a myth, a rhetorical device, or, at best, a Potemkin village. It has little power to do anything beyond tardily raising stop-Trump money that it spends neither wisely nor well and generating an endless torrent of anti-Trump sermons for publications that most Trump voters don’t read. The Establishment’s prize creation, Marco Rubio — a bot candidate programmed with patriotic Reaganisms, unreconstructed Bush-Cheney foreign-policy truculence, a slick television vibe, and a dash of ethnicity — was the biggest product flop to be marketed by America’s Fortune 500 stratum since New Coke…

    For all the Republican talk about “personal responsibility,” the party’s leaders have worked overtime to escape any responsibility for fanning the swamp fevers that produced Trump: They instead blame him on the same bogeymen they blame everything on — Obama and the news media. What GOP elites can’t escape is the sinking feeling that a majority of Republican voters are looking for a president who will repudiate them and, implicitly, their class. Trump refuses to kowtow to the Establishment—and it is precisely that defiance, as articulated in his ridicule of Romney and Jeb Bush and Megyn Kelly and Little Marco, that endears him to Republican voters and some Democrats as well. The so-called battle for the “soul” of the Republican Party is a battle over power, not ideology. Trump has convinced millions of Americans that he will take away the power from the pinheads on high and return it to people below who feel (not wrongly) that they’ve gotten a raw deal. It’s the classic populist pitch, and it will not end well for those who invest their faith in Trump. He cares about no one but himself and would reward his own class with extravagant tax cuts like any Republican president. But the elites, who represent the problem, have lost any standing that might allow them to pretend to be part of the solution…

  12. rikyrah says:

    Good Morning, Everyone :)

  13. Ametia says:

    Good Morning, Everyone! Love Ms. Bessie Smith this morning, Rik. :-)

    Sugar in my bowl and a HARD man is Good to Find. Ok, I’ll go to the nuaghty corner!

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