Bessie Smith

Address: Bessie Smith Cultural Center 200 E. Martin Luther King Boulevard Chattanooga, TN 37403 Contact Email: info@bessiesmithcc.org Phone: (423) 266-8658
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Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bessie Smith was widely known as "The Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith was a popular singer during the 1920s. Raised in poverty in the South, she ran away as a teenager to join a traveling show as a dancer. In 1912, Smith began performing in the same show as blues vocalist Ma Rainey. She continued to perform at various theaters and on the vaudeville circuit. Her career really took off once she started recording. Signed to Columbia Records, Bessie Smith made her first recording in 1923—the song “Down Hearted Blues” was a big success. With her rich, powerful and clear voice, she became a successful recording artist and toured extensively for the rest of her life. Smith had a great rapport with their audiences, who turned out in droves to see her. Bessie Smith worked with many important jazz performers--such as saxophonist Sidney Bechet, pianists Fletcher Henderson and James P. Johnson. With Johnson, she recorded one of her most famous songs, “Back Water 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.” As a blues artist, Bessie Smith could deliver her songs with such emotion. She knew firsthand about struggle and heartbreak. While working on a comeback, Bessie Smith died on September 26, 1937, in an automobile accident. Since her death, her music continues to win over new fans, and collections of her songs have sold well over the years. Smith has been immortalized in numerous works, including Edward Albee’s 1961 play "The Death of Bessie Smith." The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is open Monday through Friday between 10 am and 5 pm on Saturdays from noon to 4 pm. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center plays host to numerous exciting exhibits, concerts, and workshops year-round. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center educational programs focus on arts, culture and heritage education. The education programs serve as a link between the permanent and temporary exhibitions and the many communities that it serves. Ongoing partnerships with schools and community organizations help to form the creation of interactive experiences. The BSCC presents key educational and cultural resources by offering a wide array of programs, workshops, publications and exhibitions geared towards adults, families and students and teachers in grades K-12 and college.


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