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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Duane Eddy born 26 April 1938

Duane Eddy (born April 26, 1938) is an American guitarist. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he had a string of hit records produced by Lee Hazlewood.  The legendary simple "twangy" guitar sound of Duane Eddy has made him one of rock 'n' roll's most famous instrumental Grammy Award-winning guitarist. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, he is acclaimed as one of the most successful rock and roll instrumentalist of all time.  

Born in Corning, New York, in 1938, he began playing the guitar at the age of five, emulating his cowboy hero, Gene Autry. His family moved west to Arizona in 1951. In early 1954, in Coolidge, Arizona, Eddy met local disc jockey, Lee Hazlewood, who would become his longtime partner, co-writer and producer. They moved to Phoenix and together created a successful formula based upon Eddy's unique style and approach to the guitar, and Lee's experimental vision with sound in the recording studio. The sound was created after hearing Bill Justis' famous "Raunchy" (the song that George Harrison first learned to play).  His first album, Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel, contained six hit singles, and remained on the charts for an astounding 82 weeks.  

Together with producer Lee Hazlewood, Eddy co-wrote a deluge of hits mixed with versions of standards, using the bass strings of his Gretsch guitar recorded through an echo chamber. The debut "Movin' 'N' Groovin'" made the lower end of the US chart, and for the next six years Eddy repeated this formula with greater success. His backing group, the Rebel Rousers was a tight, experienced band with a prominent saxophone sound played by Jim Horn and Steve Douglas, completed by pianist Larry Knechtel. Among their greatest hits were "Rebel-Rouser", "Shazam", "Peter Gunn", "The Ballad Of Paladin" and "Theme From Dixie". The latter was a variation on the Civil War standard written in 1860.

One of Eddy's most memorable hits was the superlative theme music for the film Because They're Young, brilliantly combining his bass notes with evocative strings. The song has been used by UK disc jockey Johnny Walker as his theme music for over 25
years and this classic still sounds fresh. Eddy's "(Dance With The) Guitar Man" was another major hit, which was unusual for the fact that the song had lyrics, sung by a female group. Eddy's albums played heavily on the use of "twang" in the title, but that was exactly what the fans wanted.  

The hits dried up in 1964 at the dawn of the Beatles' invasion, and for many years his sound was out of fashion. An attempt in the contemporary market was lambasted with Duane Goes Dylan. Apart from producing Phil Everly's excellent Star Spangled Springer in 1973, Eddy travelled the revival circuit, always finding a small but loyal audience in the UK. Tony Macaulay wrote "Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar" for him in 1975, and after more than a decade he was back in the UK Top 10.  

He slipped back into relative obscurity but returned to the charts in 1986 when he was flattered to be asked to play with the electro-synthesizer band Art Of Noise, all the more complimentary was that it was his song, "Peter Gunn". The following year Jeff Lynne produced his first album for many years, being joined by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ry Cooder, all paying tribute to the man who should have legal copyright on the word "twang".  

In the spring of 1994, Eddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eddy's "Rebel Rouser" was featured that same year in Forrest Gump. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers used "The Trembler", a track written by Eddy and Ravi Shankar. Also in 1994, Eddy teamed up with Carl Perkins and The Mavericks to contribute "Matchbox" to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country produced by the Red Hot Organization. Eddy was the lead guitarist on Foreigner's 1995 hit "Until the end of Time", which reached the top ten on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. In 1996, Eddy played guitar on Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for the film Broken Arrow. 

On April 5, 2000, at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the title "Titan of Twang" was bestowed upon Eddy by the mayor. In 2004, Eddy was presented with the Guitar Player Magazine "Legend Award". Eddy was the second recipient of the award, the first being presented to Les Paul. 
In October 2010, Eddy returned to the UK at a sold out Royal Festival Hall in London. This success prompted the subsequent album for Mad Monkey/EMI, which was produced by Richard Hawley in Sheffield, England. The album, Road Trip, was released on June 20, 2011. Mojo placed the album at number 37 on its list of "Top 50 albums of 2011." Eddy performed at the Glastonbury Festival on June 26, 2011. (info various mainly New Musical Express)

Here's a video taken from The Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. July 19, 1958. 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Jimmie Noone born 23 April 1895

Jimmie Noone (April 23, 1895 – April 19, 1944) was an American jazz clarinetist and bandleader. After beginning his career in New Orleans he led Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, an influential Chicago band that recorded for Vocalion and Decca Records. Maurice Ravel acknowledged basing his Boléro on a Jimmie Noone improvisation. At the time of his death Noone had his own quartet in Los Angeles and was part of an all-star band that was an important force in reviving interest in traditional New Orleans jazz in the 1940s. 
Noone was born in Cut Off, Louisiana, and started playing guitar in his home town; at the age of 15, he switched to the clarinet and moved to New Orleans, where he studied with Lorenzo Tio and with the young Sidney Bechet, who was only 13 at the time. By 1912, he was playing professionally with Freddie Keppard in Storyville, and played with Buddy Petit, Kid Ory, Papa Celestin, the Eagle Band, and the Young Olympia Band, before joining the Original Creole Orchestra in Chicago, Illinois in 1917. The following year, he joined King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, then in 1920 joined Keppard in Doc Cook's band which he would remain with for six years, and make early recordings with. 
In 1926, he started leading the band at Chicago's Apex Club. This band, Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, was notable for its unusual instrumentation—a front line consisting of just Noone and alto saxophonist/clarinetist Joe Poston, who had worked with Noone in Doc Cook's band. The influential Pittsburgh-born pianist Earl Hines was also in the band for a time. 
Noone signed with Brunswick in May, 1928 and was assigned to their Vocalion label. From his first session yielded "Four or Five Times" b/w "Every Evening (I Miss You") (Vocalion 1185), which was a best seller.

"The quintet which Noone brought to Vocalion was unique in that it preserved New Orleans' musical concepts without using brass instruments," wrote jazz historian Richard Hadlock in his notes to Decca's 1994 remastered reissue of the 1928–1929 Apex Club Orchestra recordings. "Joe Poston and Noone took turns playing a loose, melodic lead and the powerful right hand of Hines was often blended into the front line to plump up the harmony. … Noone seemed to keep one foot in traditional New Orleans bandsmanship and the other in the new movement toward virtuoso swing solo playing." 

He continued recording for Vocalion prolifically through February, 1935. He then signed with Decca in early 1936 and one session each for Decca in 1936, 1937 and 1940. He did one session for Bluebird also in 1940. With the swing music craze dominating jazz, Noone tried leading a big band—singer Joe Williams made his professional debut in 1937 with the group—but he went back to his small-ensemble format. 
In 1935, Noone moved New York City to start a band and a (short-lived) club with Wellman Braud. He then returned to Chicago where he played at various clubs until 1943, when he moved to Los Angeles, California.  
On March 15, 1944, Noone made his first appearance with an all-star band featured on CBS Radio's The Orson Welles Almanac—a band that was an important force in reviving interest in New Orleans jazz. The band consisted of Mutt Carey (trumpet), Ed Garland (bass), Kid Ory (trombone), Bud Scott (guitar), Zutty Singleton (drums), Buster Wilson (piano), and Jimmie Noone (clarinet). Other than Singleton, Noone was the only band member who was working regularly, performing with his own quartet at the Streets of Paris in Hollywood. Their performances on the Welles show were so popular that the band became a regular feature and launched Ory's comeback.
The All Star Jazz Group, left to right: Ed Garland (bass), Buster Wilson (piano), Marili Morden (proprietor, Jazz Man Records), Jimmie Noone (clarinet), Mutt Carey (trumpet), Zutty Singleton (drums), Kid Ory (trombone), Bud Scott (guitar)

Noone performed on four broadcasts of The Orson Welles Almanac. On the morning of the fifth broadcast, April 19, 1944, he suddenly died at home of a heart attack, aged 48. The Ory band, with New Orleans-born clarinetist Wade Whaley, played a blues (titled "Blues for Jimmie" by Welles) in his honour on the radio, and the number eventually became a regular feature for the Ory band. 
Noone is generally regarded as one of the greatest of the second generation of jazz clarinetists, along with Johnny Dodds and Sidney Bechet. Noone's playing is not as blues-tinged as Dodds nor as flamboyant as Bechet, but is perhaps more lyrical and sophisticated, and certainly makes more use of "sweet" flavoring. Noone was an important influence on later clarinetists such as Artie Shaw, Irving Fazola and Benny Goodman.

His son, Jimmie Noone, Jr., suddenly emerged out of obscurity in the 1980s to play clarinet and tenor with the Cheathams. (Info mainly Wikipedia)

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ray Griff born 22 April 1940

John Raymond David "Ray" Griff (April 22, 1940 – March 9, 2016) was a Canadian country music singer and songwriter, born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His songwritering credits reached over 2500 songs, many of them were recorded by Nashville's top recording artists. 

Canadian singer and songwriter Ray Griff overcame a difficult childhood to become one his country's more successful country songwriters. Born on April 22, 1940 in Vancouver, British Columbia, he moved to Winfield, Alberta with his mother and brother when his parents split up. Suffering from a stuttering problem, Griff found solace in his love for music, forming a band with several other local kids at the age of eight, drumming and singing. He soon taught himself to play guitar and piano and, by the time he was twelve, Griff was writing songs.  

Although he earned an invitation to join the Canadian Olympic team as a long jumper, he put aside athletic endeavours to remain focused on music fronting his own band, The Blue Echos, while in high school. The group played often around Calgary (where Griff's family had relocated) and one performance led to Griff touring Western Canada as an opener for Johnny Horton at the age of sixteen. During the tour, Griff played a song for Horton which he had written specifically for the singer. Horton ended up cutting the song, "Mister Moonlight, and Griff began making trips to Nashville in 1961 to pitch songs.  

His next break came when singer Jim Reeves took note of Griff's "Where Do We Go From Here" and, after recording the song, encouraged Griff to relocate to Nashville. However, shortly after Griff arrived, Reeves was killed in an accident and Griff was forced to take on a succession of odd jobs to support himself while he attempted to get his fledgling career off the ground. He briefly signed a record contract but the deal fell through. An opportunity to play a song for legendary producer Owen Bradley led to a publishing deal instead and for the next two decades Griff would make a name as a successful songwriter with his songs. 

His first records as a singer were released in the late 1960s and Griff had his first hit, "Patches", a remake of the Clarence Carter soul hit in 1970 which peaked at No. 26 in Billboard. Griff recorded for the small country label Royal American and later moved on to Dot Records without much success. His stint at Capitol Records from 1975-1979 proved more successful, racking up eight more country top 40 hits, the most successful being 1976's "If I Let Her Come In" which peaked at No. 11.  

Griff also recorded more than 30 albums such as Songs For Everyone and The Last Of The Winfield Amateurs, He also produced other artists such as Dick Damron and Jason McCoy. Griff also hosted a pair of television shows in Canada, Good Time Country and Up-Town Country. 
Griff's success as a songwriter, however, always overshadowed his recording work with over 700 songs recorded, including the major hits "Canadian Pacific" for George Hamilton IV, "Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano" for Jerry Lee Lewis, and "Baby" for Wilma Burgess. Others who had major hit records with Griff songs include Faron Young, Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, Bob Luman, Gene Watson, and Johnny Duncan. 

Griff returned to Canada in the late 1970s and remained active on the country music scene there as an artist, songwriter, and record producer. He lived a quiet life in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, occasionally performing at country venues with musicians from the area, most notably the Ranchman's Club. In 1989, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and two years later saw him issue See Ya, Love Ya, Bye, his first album in fifteen years. 

In 2008, Griff was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by SOCAN at the annual SOCAN Awards in Toronto. 

Griff had battled throat cancer in his recent years, and he died on March 9, 2016, from pneumonia following surgery. He was 75. (Info edited from Wikipedia & a bio by Tom Demalon @ All Music)

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Luther Vandross born 20 April 1951

Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. (April 20, 1951 – July 1, 2005) was an American singer, songwriter and record producer. 

Luther Vandross was born in New York in 1951, the baby of four children. His father, also named Luther, was an upholsterer who died of diabetes when the singer was just 8. Despite this sadness, his mother, a practical nurse, made sure that music was prevalent in the Vandross household, particularly gospel, soul and doo-wop.
Luther was influenced by his older sister Patricia, who became a member of a doo-wop group called The Crests, and scored with "16 Candles", a 1958 hit.  

In high school, Luther formed his own musical group and first started to write and compose. His first big songwriting break came with "Everybody Rejoice (Can You Feel a Brand New Day)", which was used for the Broadway stage and film productions of "The Wiz". He also sang in the film's choir selections. In the 1970s, while still working his way up, Luther voiced commercial jingles (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and provided backup vocals on tour and in session work for such notables as David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Bette Midler and Donna Summer. 

After performing with a short-lived singing group called "Luther", which was formed to include the talented musicians Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, who later formed the group, Chic, Luther returned to the background and took part in various projects for Quincy Jones and others. Insisting on creative control, Luther had a difficult time finding the right contract for himself in record-making. At age 30, he finally recorded his first solo album with the No. 1 R&B and "Top 20" pop chartmaker, "Never Too Much".
 He continued steadily with such albums as "Forever, for Always, for Love" in 1982 and "Give Me the Reasons" (1986), but it wasn't until 1989 that he had his first "Top 10" single with "Here and Now" (No. 6), which finally placed him securely on the love song pedestal. Such other No. 1 R&B singles would include "Stop to Love", "There's Nothing Better than Love" and "Any Love". A minimalist stylist whose eloquent, velvety renditions were accentuated by spot-on phrasing and effortless vocal control, his image quickly led to such unwelcome sobriquets as "master of bedroom music" and the restrictive label of being a "ladies only" act.  

He was also besieged by a wealth of other personal and health problems. A binge eater, his weight fluctuated throughout his career with his 6' 3" frame handling a diversity of 190 to 340 pounds at various stages, aggravated by constant career pressures and a roller coaster personal and romantic life. The never-married crooner was besieged by persistent reports that he was gay (he never denied or acknowledged the reports), rumours that threatened his ladies' man career. Moreover, Luther suffered from a mild form of diabetes, the disease that took the life of his father.  

In 1986, he was the driver in a 1986 car crash that killed one passenger (a close friend) with a charge of vehicular manslaughter finally reduced to reckless driving (speeding). The 1990s seemed, career-wise, stronger than ever again with a Top 40 hit dueting with Mariah Carey in 1994 on "My Endless Love" and the release of his No. 1 R&B signature version of "Always and Forever" (1994). He also made his motion picture debut with Robert Townsend's The Meteor Man (1993).  
Luther & Diana Ross
Throughout his career, Luther continued to write and produce for other artists including Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Teddy Pendergrass, Cheryl Lynn and Aretha Franklin. Following his massive April 2003 stroke, he made a phantom return to the spotlight with the release of his 2003 CD "Dance With My Father", which was recorded prior to his illness.

At the awards show, the absent Luther was rewarded with four Grammys, including song of the year. The success also gave him his first No. 1 album on the pop chart and four NAACP Image Awards.

The beloved 54-year-old musician died at JFK Medical Centre in Edision, New Jersey, of his lingering complications and was survived by his Evangelist mother, Mary Ida Vandross, who was instrumental in promoting her son's last work to Grammy glory following his severe debilitation. 

 (Info from IMDb Mini Biography By:  Gary Brumburgh)

Watch this live performance of 'Always and Forever' at Royal Albert Hall in 1994, originally released on Luther Vandross' Grammy Award winning 1991 album, Power of Love.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Chris Barber born 17 April 1930

Donald Christopher "Chris" Barber (born 17 April 1930) is an English jazz musician, best known as a bandleader and trombonist

Barber was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, the son of a statistician father and headmistress mother. He was educated at Hanley Castle Grammar School, Malvern, Worcestershire, to the age of 15, then St Paul's School in London and the Guildhall School of Music. 
Barber played trombone with Humphrey Lyttleton in 1949 and began leading his own bands in which he played trombone and double bass. Barber and Monty Sunshine (clarinet) formed a band in 1953, calling it Ken Colyer's Jazzmen to capitalise on their trumpeter's recent escapades in New Orleans: the group also included Donegan, Jim Bray (bass), Ron Bowden (drums) and Barber on trombone. The band played Dixieland jazz, and later ragtime, swing, blues and R&B. Pat Halcox took over on trumpet in 1954 when Colyer moved on after musical differences and the band became "The Chris Barber Band". 

In April 1953 the band made its debut in Copenhagen, Denmark. There Chris Albertson recorded several sides for the new Danish Storyville label, including some featuring only Sunshine, Donegan and Barber on double bass. The year 1955 saw the arrival of Barber's future wife, vocalist Ottilie Patterson, a blues-based performer who sang duets with Sister Rosetta Tharpe when the gospel/swing star sat in with the band in 1957. 


 In 1959 the band's version of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur", a clarinet solo by Monty Sunshine with Barber on string bass, spent twenty-four weeks in the UK Singles Charts, making it to No. 3 and selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. After 1959 he toured the United States many times (where "Petite Fleur" charted at #5). 

Ottilie & Chris Barber
Although the Barber band featured traditional jazz in the New Orleans style, it later also engaged in Ragtime, Swing, Blues and R&B and worked with other artists including Louis Jordan and Dr. John. After 1959 he toured the United States many times. 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Barber was mainly responsible for arranging the first UK tours of blues artists Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters. This, with the encouragement of local enthusiasts such as Alexis Korner and John Mayall, sparked young musicians such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. British rhythm and blues powered the British invasion of the USA charts in the 1960s, yet Dixieland itself remained popular: in January 1963 the British music magazine, NME reported the biggest trad jazz event in Britain at Alexandra Palace. It included George Melly, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Alex Welsh, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Barber. 
Barber stunned traditionalists in 1964 by introducing blues guitarist John Slaughter into the line up who, apart from a break between April 1978 and August 1986, when Roger Hill took over the spot, played in the band until shortly before his death in 2010. Barber next added a second clarinet/saxophone and this line-up continued until 1999. Then Barber added fellow trombonist/arranger Bob Hunt and another clarinet and trumpet. This eleven-man "Big Chris Barber Band" offered a broader range of music while reserving a spot in the programme for the traditional six-man New Orleans line-up. 

A recording of the Lennon–McCartney composition "Catswalk" can be heard, retitled "Cat Call", on The Songs Lennon and McCartney Gave Away. Written by Paul McCartney the song was recorded in late July 1967 and released as a single in the UK on 20 October 1967.

Recent band members who have moved on: Pat Halcox, trumpeter with the Chris Barber Band since its formation on 31 May 1954, retired after playing his last gig with the Big Chris Barber Band on 16 July 2008. Halcox and Barber were together in the band for 54 years - the longest continuous partnership in the history of jazz, exceeding even that of Duke Ellington and Harry Carney (48 years between 1926 and 1974).Tony Carter (reeds) also left the band at this time.

In 1991 Barber was awarded the OBE for his services to Music. As a trombone player Chris's work is enhanced by his rich sound and flowing solo style. It is, however, as a Bandleader and trend-creator that he has made his greatest contribution to the jazz scene both internationally and in the UK.

The 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century found Barber carrying the torch of trad jazz into a sixth decade of creative professional activity, often expanding his group to include 11 players while consistently delivering music of unpretentious warmth and historic depth.

 Chris and his Big band are currently touring the UK.  (Info mainly from Wikipedia)

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Judy Lynn born 16 April 1936

Judy Lynn Kelly (April 16, 1936 – May 26, 2010), who performed as Judy Lynn and was born Judy Lynn Voiten, was an American country music singer and beauty queen who was crowned Miss Idaho in 1955. 

Ms. Lynn recorded more than a dozen albums and had hit singles with such titles as “Footsteps of a Fool” (1962) and “My Secret” (1963). She was also renowned as the most flamboyantly costumed country star of her generation.

Born Judy Lynn Voiten in 1936, she was the daughter of bandleader Joe Voiten. Raised in rural Idaho, she was an authentic cowgirl who could rope and ride at an early age. She first performed in public at age 10.

Blonde and blue-eyed, she was named Queen of the Snake River Jamboree in 1952. The following year, she was crowned America’s Champion Yodeler. She competed as Miss Idaho in the 1955 Miss America contest and finished as a runner-up. She also starred in the Broadway musical Top Banana and its film adaptation. 

In 1957, she was chosen to co-host the first national Grand Ole Opry network telecast. She also became a frequent guest on Jimmy Dean’s network television show. During her heyday in the 1960s she had her own syndicated TV series. 

She signed with ABC-Paramount Records in 1957. Although she had no notable successes with the label, Billboard named her its Most Promising Female Country Singer later that same year. United Artists Records signed Ms. Lynn in 1962. Produced by Pappy Dailey, she had a top-10 hit that year with “Footsteps of a Fool.” She wrote two of her other hits for the label, “My Secret” and “My Father’s House.”
She became a tireless entertainer for the troops, making many USO tours overseas. She also began headlining at The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. She settled in that show-business capital and eventually graduated to starring at Caesar’s Palace. Ms. Lynn appeared with Eddy Arnold, Red Foley, Elvis Presley, Rex Allen, Eddie Fisher, Gene Autry, Ferlin Husky and other top stars of her era. 

Her album jackets illustrate her eye-popping visual flair. Ms. Lynn performed in elaborately tooled cowgirl boots in vivid colors to match her skin-tight stretch slacks and figure-hugging blouses. She was clad in electric-blue leather, shimmering purple lamé, green gabardine embellished with shiny gold or silver flowers, rhinestone bedecked crimson polyester or blouses with metallic sleeve fringe, always topped by matching kerchiefs at the throat and highly decorated cowgirl hats atop her gleaming golden tresses. 

She moved to Musicor Records in 1966. By then, she had expanded from her Vegas base to also headline in the casinos of Reno and Lake Tahoe. She was produced by Frank Jones on Columbia Records in 1969, then returned to the charts with Alex Harvey’s song “Married to a Memory” on the independent Amaret label in 1971. Her last charted single was 1975’s “Padre” on Warner Bros. Records. 

Ms. Lynn was married to musician Jack Kelly. In 1980, she abruptly quit show business to become an ordained minister. 

She died at home of congestive heart failure on Wednesday, May 26, 2010. At the time of her passing, she was residing in Jeffersonville, Indiana. (Info mainly from an article by Robert.K.Germann for

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Bessie Smith born 15 April 1895

Bessie Smith (15 April, 1894* – September 26, 1937) was the most popular American female blues singer of the 1920s and '30s,. Smith is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era, and along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists. (*Her date of birth is uncertain and is variously given as 1894-6, 1898, and 1900.I have opted for the most common date given.) 

Bessie Smith earned the title of “Empress of the Blues” by virtue of her forceful vocal delivery and command of the genre. Her singing displayed a soulfully phrased, boldly delivered and nearly definitive grasp of the blues. In addition, she was an all-around entertainer who danced, acted and performed comedy routines with her touring company. She was the highest-paid black performer of her day and arguably reached a level of success greater than that of any African-American entertainer before her.   

Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894. Like many of her generation, she dreamed of escaping a life of poverty by way of show business. As a teenager she joined a travelling minstrel show, the Moss Stokes Company. Her brother Clarence was a comedian with the troupe, and Smith befriended another member, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (a.k.a. the “Mother of the Blues"), who served as something of a blues mentor. After a decade’s seasoning on the stage, Smith was signed to Columbia Records in 1923.  

Her first recording - “Down Hearted Blues” b/w “Gulf Coast Blues” - sold an estimated 800,000 copies, firmly establishing her as a major figure in the black record market. Smith sang raw, uncut country blues inspired by life in the South, in which everyday experiences were related in plainspoken language - not unlike the rap music that would emerge more than half a century later. She was ahead of her time in another sense as well. In the words of biographer Chris Albertson, “Bessie had a wonderful way of turning adversity into triumph, and many of her songs are the tales of liberated women.”   

Smith was unquestionably the greatest of the vaudeville blues singers and brought the emotional intensity, personal involvement, and expression of blues singing into the jazz repertory with unexcelled artistry. Baby Doll and After You've Gone, both made with Joe Smith, and Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out, with Ed Allen on cornet, illustrate her capacity for sensitive interpretation of popular songs. Her broad phrasing, fine intonation, blue-note inflections, and wide, expressive range made hers the measure of jazz-blues singing in the 1920s.

She made almost 200 recordings, of which her remarkable duets with Armstrong are among her best. Although she excelled in the performance of slow blues, she also recorded vigorous versions of jazz standards. Joe Smith was her preferred accompanist, but possibly her finest recording (and certainly the best known in her day) was Back Water Blues, with James P. Johnson. Her voice had coarsened by the time of her last session, but few jazz artists have been as consistently outstanding as she.  

By 1930 her career had faltered due to the public's changing musical tastes, mismanagement of her affairs, and her heavy drinking. She had started drinking excessively in her teens and drank more heavily as time passed. Gin was her perferred drink, downing tumbler fulls at a time. Her odes to gin include Gin House Blues and Me and My Gin. In many ways Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out was an autobiographical confession for Bessie.   
Bessie's last recording session in 1933 billed as a comeback, was in large measure a sentimental gesture by producer John Hammond.
Her last New York appearance was in 1936 at a Sunday afternoon jam session sponsored by United Hot Clubs of America at the original Famous Door on 52nd Street.   

On the eve of John Hammond's departure to Mississippi to bring her back to New York, September 27, 1937, to record again, Bessie Smith was in an automobile accident just below Clarksdale, Mississippi on the main road to Memphis. Her right arm was nearly severed in the crash, and Bessie died from loss of blood. In a 1937 article by John Hammond he reported that Bessie Smith died after being denied admission to a hospital because of her skin color. However Hammond has since admitted his report was based on hearsay, and those since interviewed who had direct knowledge of the events have made it clear that this was not the case.  

An estimated 10,000 mourners filed past her coffin in the Philadelphia funeral home where she lay in state, to pay their respects.  Bessie, even in death, was dressed like an Empress, in a long silk gown and slippers that went well with the pink two tone velvet that lined her silver casket. Bessie's grave remained unmarked for 33 years while Jack Gee and her family fought over her estate. It wasn't until 1970 that Janis Joplin and the wife of an NAACP member paid for the stone.

She left behind a rich, influential legacy of 160 recordings cut between 1923 and 1933. Some of the great vocal divas who owe a debt to Smith include Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. In Joplin’s own words of tribute, “She showed me the air and taught me how to fill it.”     (info edited, mainly from