The Lord of the Blues

Bessie Smith, although not a seemingly religious person, did have a living relationship with American Christianity. Her father was a part time Baptist Minister in Tennessee. Because he died when Bessie was an infant, circa 1895, their is not much documentation on his life. Although Bessie Smith was the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, their is not much evidence that she had any true devotion to institutionalized religion. Bessie did not however shun the idea of a deity.

It is rumored, that when Bessie and her younger brother used to perform on street corners for change in Chattanooga, she would joke on the church. "That's right Charlie, give to the church." (Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues,7) Even as a preteen her sarcastic humor was part of her performance. Bessie Smith did marry and did as well mention God and the church in many of her songs. Her sexual infidelity is evidence of her lack of respect for the institution of marriage. Coupled with her occupation and good-humor, it can be said that Bessie Smith did not have an overwhelming devotion to institutionalized religion.

The selective incorporation of religion into Bessie Smith's life is indicative of the lives of many in this blues culture. After Mamie Smith's hit, Crazy Blues women blues artist popped up like weeds. Many of these new women artists were overnight converts from gospel and church choirs, to what many preachers considered the devils music. The blues subculture and Bessie Smith had a rocky, at best, relationship with organized religion.

Due to the poor condition of the text, I was unable to scan in any articles from the New Amsterdam News. If you are interested in more detailed accounts and information I urge you to look at the New Amsterdam News, New York Public Library Collection, starting in 1922.


Down-Hearted Blues

'Taint Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do