Mamie Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mamie Smith
Background information
Birth name Mamie Robinson
Born (1883-05-26)May 26, 1883
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Died September 16, 1946(1946-09-16) (aged 63)
Staten Island, New York, U.S.
Genres Blues
Occupation(s) Actress, dancer, singer
Instruments Vocals

Mamie Smith (née Robinson; May 26, 1883 – September 16, 1946) was an American vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress, who appeared in several films late in her career. As a vaudeville singer she performed a number of styles, including jazz and blues. She entered blues history by being the first African-American artist to make vocal blues recordings in 1920. Willie "The Lion" Smith (no relation) explained the background to that recording in his autobiography, Music on My Mind.

Early life[edit]

Mamie Robinson was born probably in Cincinnati, Ohio, although no records of her birth exist.[1][2] When she was ten years old, she found work touring with a white act called the Four Dancing Mitchells.[3] As a teenager, she danced in Salem Tutt Whitney's Smart Set.[1] In 1913, she left the Tutt Brothers to sing in clubs in Harlem and married a singer named William "Smitty" Smith.[3]

Musical career[edit]

On August 10, 1920, in New York City, Smith recorded a set of songs written by the African-American songwriter Perry Bradford, including "Crazy Blues" and "It's Right Here For You (If You Don't Get It, 'Tain't No Fault of Mine)", on Okeh Records.[4] It was the first recording of vocal blues by an African-American artist,[5][6] and the record became a best seller, selling a million copies in less than a year.[7] To the surprise of record companies, large numbers of the record were purchased by African Americans, and there was a sharp increase in the popularity of race records.[8] Because of the historical significance of "Crazy Blues", it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994,[9] and, in 2005, was selected for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.

Although other African Americans had been recorded earlier, such as George W. Johnson in the 1890s, they were African-American artists performing music which had a substantial following with European-American audiences. The success of Smith's record prompted record companies to seek to record other female blues singers and started the era of what is now known as classic female blues.[6]

Smith continued to make a series of popular recordings for Okeh throughout the 1920s. In 1924 she made three releases for Ajax Records which, while heavily promoted, did not sell well.[10] She made some records for Victor. She toured the United States and Europe with her band "Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds" as part of "Mamie Smith's Struttin' Along Review".[11] She was billed as "The Queen of the Blues". This billing of Mamie Smith was soon one-upped by Bessie Smith, who called herself "The Empress of the Blues." And like Bessie did, Mamie too found that the new mass medium of radio provided a way to gain additional fans, especially in cities with predominantly white audiences. For example, she and several members of her band performed on KGW in Portland, Oregon in early May 1923, and garnered positive reviews.[12]

Various recording lineups of her Jazz Hounds included (from August 1920 to October 1921) Jake Green, Curtis Moseley, Garvin Bushell, Johnny Dunn, Dope Andrews, Ernest Elliot, Porter Grainger, Leroy Parker, Bob Fuller, and (June 1922-January 1923) Coleman Hawkins, Everett Robbins, Johnny Dunn, Herschel Brassfield, Herb Flemming, Buster Bailey Cutie Perkins, Joe Smith, Bubber Miley and Cecil Carpenter.[13]

While recording with her Jazz Hounds, she also recorded as "Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Band", comprising George Bell, Charles Matson, Nathan Glantz, Larry Briers, Jules Levy, Jr., Joe Samuels, together with musicians from the Jazz Hounds, including Coleman, Fuller and Carpenter.[14]

Film career and later years[edit]

Mamie Smith appeared in an early sound film, Jailhouse Blues, in 1929. She retired from recording and performing in 1931. She returned to performing in 1939 to appear in the motion picture Paradise in Harlem produced by her husband Jack Goldberg. She appeared in further films, including Mystery in Swing, Sunday Sinners (1940), Stolen Paradise (1941), Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941), and Because I Love You (1943).[15]

Mamie Robinson Smith died in 1946, aged 63, in New York.[15]

Hit records[edit]

The first recording of vocal blues by an African American singer, Mamie Smith's performance of Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues" in 1920.

Problems playing this file? See media help.
Year Single US
1920 "Crazy Blues" 3
1921 "Fare Thee Honey Blues" 9
"Royal Garden Blues" 13
"You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" 4
"Dangerous Blues" 6
1922 "Lonesome Mama Blues" 6
1923 "You Can Have Him, I Don't Want Him Blues" 13
"You've Got to See Mama Ev'ry Night (Or You Can't See Mama At All)" 13


  1. ^ a b Oliver, Paul, "Smith (née Robinson), Mamie", The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd edition (Oxford University Press), retrieved April 22, 2010 
  2. ^ Tracy, Steven C. (1998). Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City. University of Illinois Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-252-06709-6. 
  3. ^ a b Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (2009). Harlem Renaissance lives from the African American national biography. Oxford University Press US. p. 458. ISBN 0-19-538795-3. 
  4. ^ Weisenfeld, Judith (2007). Hollywood be thy name: African American religion in American film, 1929-1949. University of California Press. p. 287. ISBN 0-520-25100-8. 
  5. ^ Whalan, Mark (2010). American Culture in the 1910s. Edinburgh University Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-7486-3424-X. 
  6. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London, UK: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 154. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  7. ^ Schuller, Gunther (1986). Early jazz: its roots and musical development. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 226. ISBN 0-19-504043-0. 
  8. ^ Gates & Higginbotham, p. 460
  9. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame
  10. ^ Sutton, Allan; Nauck, Kurt (2000). American Record Labels and Companies - An Encyclopedia (1891-1943). Denver, Colorado: Mainspring Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0-9671819-0-9. 
  11. ^ Kernfeld, Barry Dean (2002). "Mamie Smith". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd edition, vol. 3 ed.). London, UK: MacMillan. p. 615. ISBN 1-56159-284-6. 
  12. ^ "Broadcasting from KGW", Portland Oregonian, May 5, 1923, p. 11.
  13. ^ Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012) Black Recording Artists, 1877-1926: An Annotated Discography, pp. 73-122. McFarland At Google Books. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
  14. ^ Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012) Black Recording Artists, 1877-1926: An Annotated Discography, pp. 88-106. McFarland At Google Books; retrieved May 15, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Mamie Smith at the Internet Movie Database
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Record Research. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 

External links[edit]