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Bessie: Revised and expanded edition Paperback – June 10, 2005
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when Sony/Legacy released a 4-box "Complete Recordings" series
spanning her whole recording career from 1923, when she
signed to Columbia Records' "Race Records" division and became
a huge star with the low-down rawkus blues songs that were popular
with both blacks and whites of the time, all through the 1920's,
to the depression era, where her popularity faded and the real-life
blues of people on breadlines eclipsed the romantic & hard times
blues in her most popular recordings.
"Folks don't wanna hear the blues no 'mo, times is hard!"
Bessie was heard to exclaim to her closest freinds.
Born in or around April 1894, in Chattanooga, TN into
abject poverty, suffocating Jim Crow racism, child abuse,
desolation all around her, the young tall stringy black gal
named Bessie Smith learned to scrap for survival at very early age.
Her and her brother Clarence took to the streets at a young age
as "buck dancers" and minstral-type skit performers,
which over time, Bessie developed perfect comedic timing,
slick dance moves, presence, and a voice that could stop people
in their tracks and put them in a trance!
People who heard Bessie in person said that her singing was
clear, powerful and went straight to your soul!
It was like a religious experience some said, except in her day
the blues was seen as crude and profane by narrow-minded church
types who saw her as a tortured soul singing the devil's music
who would surely burn in hell for all eternity!Read more ›
"See that long lonesome road, Lawd you know it's gonna end, and I'm a good woman and I can get plenty of men."
This book rights that egregious wrong is righted by Chris Albertson's book. Meticulously researched, Albertson's well written book is the most intimate look at Smith's life we are likely to get. Much of what Albertson recounts, in fact, comes directly from people who were close to Bessie Smith, and who worked with her. Along the way, Albertson unflinchingly debunks some of the oldest legends about Smith, up to and including the truth about the circumstances of Smith's death.
Albertson expertly pulls back focus to give readers a picture of the times in which Smith lived and worked, during a 27-year-long career, just enough to give the reader a complete picture before zooming in on Smith again. The result is not just a record of the life of Bessie Smith, but a record of her life and times.
Albertson uses Columbia Records archives to tell the story of Smith's recording sessions throughout her career, offering brief reviews of Smith's recorded performances, and note her collaborations with other legendary artists from Jellyroll Morton, to Louis Armstrong and Bennie Goodman. It was enough to send me to iTunes to download some of Smith's catalog. Afterward, I took to reading the book while listening to Smith's music as a soundtrack. If you've heard these songs before, you may listen with new perspective after reading Albertson's account of the recording sessions.Read more ›
Albertson confirms many of the now legendary brawls and drinking and infidelity which occupied a substantial amount of Bessie Smith's time and energy. But he also brings out the fact that as much as anything Bessie Smith was a product of the vaudeville entertainment which ruled the day in the 1920s and into the 30s. Yes, Smith could holler and shout the blues like no other before or after her. But she also sang popular tunes of the day, novelty songs, and gave performances that were rich in comedy and theatricality. Smith's ability to bring the genuine blues to a mass audience within the confines of a touring vaudeville troupe brings a richness to the story of Bessie Smith that has long been missing.
Albertson's depiction of the life and times of Bessie Smith is well-written, filled with previously unknown facts, and reflects both the authors admiration for his subject and his objectivity as a biographer. Highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wow. Chris Albertson's biography of blues legend Bessie Smith is one of those books I love because it has a good story, a great character and an author who cares deeply for his... Read morePublished 8 months ago by true britty
interesting book, seen mostly through the eyes of her niece and sister-in-lawPublished 9 months ago by Maria Wroblewski
great history; would have liked more personal info; well researched; read like a history book for a class; author clearly liked his subject and knows music historyPublished 9 months ago by Nana
This is a great book. Very informative and delivers as close to true story as based on research. At points when the truth is not certain, author delivers all accounts. Read morePublished 11 months ago by peachbrandy b.
Chris Albertson originally published this book in the 1970s; this is a revised and updated edition.
This is an excellent book. Read more
Great book. Learned a lot about Bessie that I did not know and much more about the early music industry.Published 13 months ago by Kay
I just loved this book and her music. Strong black women of her day. She died to early, but the music lives on.Published 14 months ago by G. D. Harper
I think the author did a awesome job putting this book together, considering the fact that he only had conversations with people that knew her and whatever he could gather from her... Read morePublished 15 months ago by MAYA'S BOOKS N THINGS
I give this book 5 stars because I am named after the original empires of blues Ms. Bessie Smith ... however, the book is old and the pages are yellow ... Read morePublished 19 months ago by BMWSMITH