Bessie Smith, the greatest and most influential classic blues singer of the 1920s was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her date of birth is uncertain and is variously given as April 15, 1894-6, 1898, and 1900. The first major blues and jazz singer on record and one of the most powerful of all time, Bessie Smith rightly earned the title of "The Empress of the Blues." Her full-bodied blues delivery coupled with a remarkable self-assuredness that worked its way in and around most every note she sang, plus her sharp sense of phrasing, enabled her to influence virtually every female blues singer who followed. Even on her first records in 1923, her passionate voice overcame the primitive recording quality of the day and still communicates easily to today's listeners, "which is not true of any other singer from that early period." At a time when the blues were in and most vocalists (particularly vaudevillians) were being dubbed "blues singers," Bessie Smith simply had no competition.
Before she had reached womanhood, both her mother and father had died. A sister, Viola, raised her but it was Clarence, her oldest brother, who had the most influence on young Bessie. A natural showman, Clarence encouraged Bessie to learn how to sing and dance. After Clarence had joined a traveling vaudeville show, Smith and another brother, Andrew, began singing and dancing on Chattanooga street corners, earning pennies from passersby. With the help of Clarence, Bessie was able to audition for the Moses Stokes Company for which he'd been working. (Blueflamecafe)
Bessie's career began when she was 'discovered' by none other than Ma Rainey, when Ma's revue, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, was passing through Chattanooga around 1912 and she had the occasion to hear young Bessie sing. (Snow) She first started her professional career...