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Bessie: Revised and expanded edition Hardcover – June 10, 2003

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Member of the 2012 Blues Hall of Fame, as awarded by the National Blues Foundation.
(National Blues Foundation Blues Hall of Fame)

About the Author

Chris Albertson is the acknowledged authority on Bessie Smith. A long-time contributor to Stereo Review, Down Beat, Saturday Review, and other publications, he has written extensive liner notes for jazz and blues albums and has produced a wide array of recordings, radio, and television programmes.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Rev Exp edition (June 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300099029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300099027
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,437,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Albertson (born October 18, 1931) is a New York City-based jazz journalist, writer and record producer.

He was born in Reykjavík and educated in Iceland, Denmark and England before studying commercial art in Copenhagen. In 1947, Albertson made a discovery which was to change his life when he happened upon a Bessie Smith recording on the Danish radio; it led to an abiding interest in jazz and blues music. On his home tape machine, Albertson recorded visiting British New Orleans revivalists Ken Colyer, Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan in 1953. These recordings were subsequently released on the Danish Storyville Records and British Tempo Records labels, and remain in the former's catalog.

In 1957, after two years as a disc jockey for Armed Forces Radio at Keflavík Air Base, in Iceland, Albertson migrated to the United States (naturalised 1963) initially working in commercial radio in Philadelphia, WCAU (a CBS affiliate) and WHAT-FM, a 24-hour jazz station. At these stations, he conducted a number of interviews, including a rare one with Lester Young, one of only two extant with the tenor saxophonist.

In 1960-61 he was employed by Riverside Records' Bill Grauer as a producer. In this capacity, he arranged and recorded the last sessions of blues singer Ida Cox (whom he brought out of retirement) and legendary boogie woogie pianist Meade Lux Lewis, and supervised the label's memorable 'Living Legends' series of location recordings. The initial albums in this series were made in New Orleans and featured such pioneer jazz musicians as pianist Sweet Emma Barrett, clarinetist Louis Cottrell, trumpeters Percy Humphrey and Kid Thomas, blues duo Billie and Dede Pierce, and trombonist Jim Robinson. He continued the series in Chicago, with performances by Lil Armstrong, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, and Earl Hines. Albertson subsequently worked as producer for Prestige Records, supervising sessions by, among others, guitarist/singer Lonnie Johnson, whom he had pulled from obscurity while working in Philadelphia. He also started his own production company, supervising sessions that included Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Ray Bryant, and Elmer Snowden. In the mid-sixties, following a period as general manager of Pacifica station, WBAI, in New York, Albertson went to work for the BBC in London, advising them on how to adapt their radio programmes for sale in North America.

In 1971, Albertson co-produced and hosted The Jazz Set, a weekly television program that was aired from coast to coast by the PBS network and featured such guests as Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Randy Weston, Jimmy Heath, and Ray Bryant. At this time, he was also producing reissues for Columbia Records, most notably the complete Bessie Smith LP sets. His work on these albums won Albertson two Grammy awards (one in 1971 in the Best Album Notes category for "The World's Greatest Blues Singer" and a Trustees Award), a Billboard Trendsetter Award and the Montreux Jazz Festival's Grand Prix du Disque. A songbook, Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues, was published by Macmillan's Schirmer Books division in 1975. His standard work, Bessie, a biography of Bessie Smith, first appeared in 1972, with a revised and expanded version published by Yale University Press in 2003; it was inducted into the National Blues Foundation's classic literature Hall of Fame in May of 2012). Albertson has written TV documentaries, including "The Story of Jazz" and "My Castle's Rocking" (a bio-documentary on Alberta Hunter), as well as articles and reviews for various publications, including "Saturday Review" and "Down Beat". He served as General Manager for WBAI, the Pacifica radio network's New York station, and worked for the BBC in London and New York before devoting his full time to writing. He was a contributing editor for Stereo Review magazine for twenty-eight years.

In recent years, Albertson has been a prominent contributor to several jazz bulletin boards on the internet, where he maintains two blogs ( and Since 2003, he has worked on the translation and interpretation of data pertaining to slavery on St. Croix in the 18th and 19th centuries, and an autobiography is an ongoing project.

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