Talk:Bessie Smith

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The article needs a few paragraphs about her songs - which ones were most popular and when, which ones were controversial and why. This would make it even more interesting. (talk) 10:14, 30 December 2007 (UTC)

Recording studios[edit]

Old version said "she did not start recording till 1923 on Columbia records' Okeh subsidiary". Columbia and Okeh were seperate competing record companies in the early 1920s.christina

According to Clarence Williams, he first took Bessie Smith to the Okeh retarded recording studios, but they rejected her as "too rough" (Okeh was featuring more show business style blues singers like Mamie Smith at the time, popular with northern African-American audiences). Williams then took Smith over to competitor Columbia Records, where she became a big hit.

-- User:Infrogmation

Birth Date[edit]

The birth-month and year of Bessie Smith can be found in the 1900 census. The 1900 census was the most accurate of all the census, listing not just the age, but the month and year of birth. Census-takers worked hard to enter accurate information. Very few mistakes were made. The huge discrepancy between the reported birthdate in biographies of Bessie Smith and the birthdate reported in the census imply that the date listed in biographies is incorrect. If there was only a discrepancy in the year, we would look at later documents before reaching a conclusion. The 1910 census would, otherwise, further confuse the issue. She is listed as a year younger; her sister's memory of Bessie's age appears to have been the error. It is possible that Viola did not know Bessie's birthdate when reporting it in 1910. She inherited the job of head of household after the death of their mother. By the time of the 1910 census, the other siblings in her charge had left, and only the youngest, Bessie, remained in her care. The discrepancy in both month and year imply an error not made by a census-taker, in math, or in keeping track of age, but in the person reporting the birth information not having true knowledge of the accurate birthdate. Bessie would have been at the mercy of her siblings for recalling her birthdate. I have noted several such situations in my work as a professional genealogist. By the way, seven children survived, not six. The seven are in the 1900 census. Four were of the age of eighteen or older at the time of the 1900 census. We know of Clarence's life beyond the census. Lula, who was seventeen at time of census, became a servant and appears in the 1910 census, having survived into adulthood.


  • Could you please provide a reference and/or link to the 1900 census, or any additional verification? Right now all we have is your word, and that's not enough for a Wiki-bio. By the way, Bessie was not the youngest Smith child---her brother Andrew was, as detailed in Chris Albertson's biography Bessie (2003).--Pinko1977 05:29, 22 November 2006 (UTC)

One must be a member of or go to a any family history library and look at the 1880 and 1900 census. Andrew Smith, alive at the time of the 1880 and 1900 census was 16 years older than Bessie, so the biographer was very much mistaken. I am pasting these here, copied for discussion only. My copy from ancestry to here lost a lot and then as it appears in discussion, lists turn into paragraphs. This is a direct copy of the census from for discussion purposes only. Cora is a daughter-in-law of Laura. We do know she was married to Andrew and they had an Andrew, Jr.

Bessie Smith Home in 1900: Chattanooga Ward 4, Hamilton, Tennessee Age: 7 Estimated birth year: abt 1893 Birthplace: Tennessee Relationship to head-of-house: Daughter Parent's Name: Laura Race: Black Occupation: View image

Neighbors: View others on page

Household Members: Name Age Laura Smith 50 Bud Smith 1 28 Andrew Smith 2 25 Viola Smith 3 23 Tennie Smith 4 19 Lula Smith 5 16 Clarence Smith 6 PERFORMED 14 Bessie Smith 7 7 Cora Smith 22

Laura Smith Home in 1880: Moulton, Lawrence, Alabama Age: 31 Estimated birth year: abt 1849 Birthplace: Alabama Relation to head-of-household: Something other than a direct relationship (Other) Father's birthplace: NC Mother's birthplace: KY Neighbors: View others on page Occupation: Servant Marital Status: Married Race: Black Gender: Female Cannot read/write:

View image Household Members: Name Age B. L. Owen 26 Tennie T. Owen 24 Fralk C Owen 3 Lydia W. Owen 7M William Smith 39 Laura Smith 31 Eva Smith 19 Gabe Smith 17 Parallee Smith 15 Francis Smith 9 Thornton Smith 6 Andrew Smith 4 Viola Smith 2 Anna Owen 8

View Original Record

View original image View blank form up arrow Save This Record Attach this record to a person in your tree as a source record, or save for later evaluation. Save

Source Citation: Year: 1880; Census Place: Moulton, Lawrence, Alabama; Roll: T9_18; Family History Film: 1254018; Page: 426.3000; Enumeration District: 173; Image: 0694.

We can only assume that Thornton and Bud are one and the same as a son does not appear in 1900 without having been raised in 1880.



EVA SMITH BORN 1860 (1880 census) GABE SMITH BORN 1863 (1880 census) PARALLEE SMITH BORN 1865 (1880 census) FRANCIS SMITH BORN 1871 (1880 census) THORNTON “BUD” SMITH BORN 1874 (1880 Thornton, 1900 Bud) ANDREW SMITH BORN 1876 (1880, 1900 census) VIOLA SMITH BORN 1878 (1880, 1900 census) TENNIE 1881 (1900 census) LULA 1883 (1900 census) CLARENCE 1885 (1900 census) BESSIE 1892 (1900 census)

1910 United States Federal Census about Cora Smith Name: Cora Smith Age in 1910: 29 Estimated birth year: abt 1881 Birthplace: Tennessee Relation to Head of House: Wife Father's Birth Place: Tennessee Mother's Birth Place: Tennessee Spouse's name: Andrew Home in 1910: Chattanooga Ward 4, Hamilton, Tennessee Marital Status: Married Race: Black Gender: Female Neighbors: View others on page Household Members: Name Age Andrew Smith 31 Cora Smith 29 Izora Smith 6 Andrew Smith Jr 3

This Andrew was born about 1906 or 1907. It is known that her brother Andrew performed with her. Can you quote Chris Albertson--his exact words about Andrew being younger?

Unfortunately census data of the time is notorious unreliable with respect to African-Americans. Most census-takers were white and shared common racial attitudes of their day. The statements here may be true of white families, but often were not true of Black families: "Census-takers worked hard to enter accurate information. Very few mistakes were made." "The discrepancy in both month and year [in 1910] imply an error not made by a census-taker, in math, or in keeping track of age, but in the person reporting the birth information not having true knowledge of the accurate birthdate."
I'm sorry, but a discrepancy very well might imply an error on the part of a white census-taker who had no interest in getting the details right when it came to a Black family, especially in a southern state such as Tennessee. Many African-Americans who have tried to use census data as a genealogical tool have found this problem. So why do you assume that the (white) census-taker is necessarily right and the (Black) family members -- including Smith herself, who completed a marriage license -- are wrong? Census-takers weren't gods; they were mortals, they suffered from the prejudices of their day, and unfortunately so did their work. — Malik Shabazz | Talk 18:08, 19 March 2007 (UTC)

Point well taken. Such problems with census takers did occur. I am a professional geneaologist in Los Angeles (in yellow pages under Family Quest) and have seen some of the things they have done. By the way, I have done more African-American genealogies than white, and the white genealogies are just as messed up. However, people changed their ages for various reasons, including forgetting their age, always guessing or estimating their ages, and so on. Biographers have been mistaken about the amount of children in Bessie's family as a census taker would not make up children's names in the 1880 and 1900 census. The amount of children listed is consistent with the amount of children Laura reported giving birth to in the 1900 census. The census taker would not list Eva and Gabe and so on, making them up. A biographer probably found out about the seven living Smiths and did not question who had died. There are no obviously purposeful inconsistencies in the reporting of the Smiths in the 1880 and 1900 census. Age differences appear accidental. People did not keep track like they do today. There were no IDs or Drivers Licenses, etc. For most families, age only came up at census time. The new birthdate for Bessie seems to have been one she adopted during or by the time of the 1910 census. The 1900 census reports her birthdate as February, 1892. Her mother reported this to the census taker. In the 1910 census, she or her sister reported her age as 16. It appears that Viola and Bessie searched their memories and came up with April, 1894. This is the date she committed to memory, but not the one her own mother reported. It is important to respect great artists like Bessie Smith with evidence-based biographical material. It looks like you feel the same way or we would not be debating this. I hope that we can come to an agreement on the evidence. I am personally upset by the amount of inaccuracies in biographies of a number of great artists, especially African-American artists.

David Daniel

You are correct, Mr. Daniel. The census indicates that Clarence wasn't her oldest brother. In addition, Viola isn’t recorded as the family’s first-born child. Here is a bit more census information and an entry in the AL Marriage Index that is probably of William and Laura Smith's marriage. I agree that census takers may have made errors, but it seems unlikely that this error would have been repeated in every census taken between 1870 & 1900.

Source Information: Dodd, Jordan R., comp.. Alabama Marriages, 1809-1920 (Selected Counties) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 1999. Original data: Early American Marriages: Alabama, 1800 to 1920.

Spouse 1: Will Smith

Spouse 2: Laura Owens

Marriage Date: 14 Oct 1869

Marriage Place: Lawrence

Performed By: Minister.

Surety/Perf. Name: Alfred Peters

OSPage: 201

Comment: (COLORED)

1870 Census Moulton PO Box, Lawrence Co., AL

William Smith 28 M B Minister Gospel b. AL

Laura Smith 22 F Mul Keep House $0 $75 b. AL

Fannie Smith 13 F Mul Farm L. b. KY

Bloney Smith 15 M Mul Farm L. b. KY

Evaline Smith 9 F B b. AL

Gabe Smith 6 M B b. AL

Paralee Smith 4 F B b. AL

Historybuff2283 04:45, 7 April 2007 (UTC)

Thank you, Historybuff, for the marriage record of William Smith. This provides further evidence that the three older children of William are not the children of Laura. I agree. Three census takers are not going make the same error. David Daniel

The Freedmen's Bureau Records are another source that anyone researching the family history of Bessie Smith might find useful. There could well be a Cohabitation Record, or something of that sort, for William and his first wife (the mother of the older children). These records might also contain information about the Owen family. Historybuff2283


My main reason for questioning some of the census data is that it is too often at odds with family recollections. I spoke at length to people who knew Bessie and not one of them mentioned that there had been other siblings (much less, mulattos). I spoke with Clarence's widow, Maude (surely, Clarence must have told her about his childhood), the adopted son, Jack Gee, Jr., and--in Chattanooga-- several people who had been Bessie's school mates. They all remembered Viola, Tinnie, Andrew and Clarence, some also recalled Bud and Lulu. Ruby Walker, Jack Gee's niece, spent 14 years on the road with Bessie and knew both Tinnie and Viola. She recalled hearing Bessie and her sisters talk about about the family--there was also mention of another sibling, Son, who died early. "Son" might have been what they called a boy who dies before given a name, Anyway, there was never any mention of another Andrew, Cora, or a girl named Eva. I think it is very unlikely that these family members existed and were completely forgotten by the rest of the family. I also think the census DOB is questionable, but that is not to say that the date in my book is etched in stone. Christiern Albertson 21:55, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

Hello Mr. Albertson. It is an honor to correspond with you. Your book on Bessie is incredible. In response to your post, I have studied over what can be known and a best theory emerges. The head of household in 1870 is William Smith. The relationship of the three children born in the 1860s to head of household does not imply that the wife of head of household is the mother. The delay in a few years between the third child and the fourth could mean that William's first wife died, or was no longer with him, and he remarried Laura. It is doubtful Laura would have been young and would have given birth to children with a five-year spread between Paralee and Francis. Your mention of "Son" in your book "Bessie" being the eighth (not chronologically) of the ten children Laura reports having given birth to during the 1900 census amounts to us being able to account for nine of the children. This includes Francis. The implication of the facts appears to be that one other unknown child was born to William and Laura besides "Son" and died very young. That child is quite likely to have been born between Viola and Tennie. The spread in time plus the age of the children at the time of the birth and death of a sibling would explain them not mentioning this child when they mentioned "Son." If we see that Francis was in the 1880 census but not the 1900 census, and we synthesize that with the report in the 1900 census of ten births and seven still living, we are left with the probability that Francis died sometime after the 1880 census. Depending on who was interviewed through their remaining years, it is still somewhat of a mystery why Francis was not mentioned by anyone. Andrew and his wife, Cora, are listed with the rest of the siblings in the 1900 census. In the 1910 census, Andrew and Cora are listed with two children, Izora and Andrew, Jr. As far as the birth-month and year of Bessie, her mother (1900 census) was almost as accurate as her father or both (consistencies in 1870 and 1880 census). Birth-month is usually remembered by mothers, in my experience. The report by Laura during the 1900 census of Bessie being born July, 1892 appears to have greater credibility, and Viola's report may reflect her best attempt at memory of Bessie's birth year. It may be that by 1910, family members had established a birth date for themselves that sometimes did not match their birth date. It has been my experience as a genealogist that many inconsistencies are found between genealogical evidence and written family histories and myths. The closeness of the seven children probably explains a number of discussions of events that included members of the seven with the exclusion of mentions of the others. It is interesting they never mentioned their older half-siblings or their full-sibling, Francis. The older three are mentioned in two censuses. David Daniel

P.S. The two mulato children are obviosuly not the children of William and Laura Smith. The three children of William (Evaline, Gabe, and Paralee) who are not children of Laura were more than likely not a part of the lives of Bessie later on. By the time she was of age, they were in their forties. The shocking thing is how they forgot to mention Francis, their full-sibling.

Years of birth are approximate for the first four. Evaline (1861) Gabe (1864) Paralee (1866) Francis (1871) Thornton “Bud” (April, 1872) Andrew (February, 1875) Viola (May, 1877) Possible "child" (1879?) Tennie (named after Tennie Owen) (February, 1881) Lula (December, 1883) Clarence (October, 1885) “Son” (1888) Bessie (July, 1892)

Thank you for all your efforts to bring into focus the blurry picture of Bessie's ancestry. What you have found is fascinating and it makes me itch to eventually do a new edition of "Bessie". That, however, will probably be left to someone else. Realizing how error prone such information is (census and recollections), we can only take it as a guide, something upon which to base our own conclusions. Clearly, my description of the family line was simplified and I can make no valid excuse for not delving more deeply into that aspect of the story. Again, thank you for your illuminating escavation. Christiern Albertson 13:06, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

It is a real pleasure to receive your kind letter. Your book is a masterpiece. I would encourage you to make another edition of Bessie. Your book is the best book about Bessie Smith and I think it deserves your touch one more time. You can email me at Again, it is an honor to hear back from you.

David Daniel

Gay Icon Project[edit]

In my effort to merge the now-deleted list from the article Gay icon to the Gay icons category, I have added this page to the category. I engaged in this effort as a "human script", adding everyone from the list to the category, bypassing the fact-checking stage. That is what I am relying on you to do. Please check the article Gay icon and make a judgment as to whether this person or group fits the category. By distributing this task from the regular editors of one article to the regular editors of several articles, I believe that the task of fact-checking this information can be expedited. Thank you very much. Philwelch 22:15, 24 Mar 2005 (UTC)


I've never heard anywhere that Bessie Smith was gay or considered to be a gay icon. Therefore, I am removing this article from the GLBT categories, pending verification. --ZekeMacNeil 22:50, 21 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Bessie Smith was well known, even in her lifetime, to have been bisexual. Perhaps the onus is on you to do some verification before editing the article! Flapdragon 00:30, 22 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I'm not sure at what point Bessie became a gay icon, but in 1997 the lesbian poet Jackie Kay wrote a book about her in Oulines, "the first series of books explore and portray the various and often unexpected ways in which homosexuality has informed the life and creative work of influential gay and lesbian artists, writers, singers, dancers, composers and actors of our time" (Bessie Smith, Absolute Press). Chris Albertson (Bessie: Empress of the Blues, 1972) writes: "It is not known at what stage in her life Bessie began to embrace her own sex. Some have assumed that Ma Rainey, who was similarly inclined, initiated her, but this theory is supported by no more evidence than the improbable story of Bessie's 'kidnapping'. But by late 1926, when Lillian Simpson entered her life, Bessie's sexual relationships included women." Flapdragon 00:23, 23 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Racist vandalism[edit]

I found this page vandalized today merely because i was linking to it from the Luck page, specialically, Songs about luck / "Lady Luck Blues" by Bessie Smith. The vandalism had been up for hours. To me this is shameful. I know there are bots and humans trying to revert racist vandlaism at WP. Yet i see this sort of vandlaism all the time -- primarily anti-Black vandalism, given the primary topics about which i am writing (folklore, folk magic, and folk music). I feel that WP is inadequately protecting these pages. Here is what i eliminated this morning, and i want people to see it, to red it, to understand how disturbing it is:

She is racist against blue people. Her favorite quote is, "Smurfs are evil!" She believed all were evil and belonged to the group called SSS, Smurfs Suck Society. Here their plan was to kill all Smurfs by burning their houses and putting a burning wooden "x" outside the remains. Her death was tradgic. She was in a Porta-pot when she fell into the hole where it contained the blue chemical. Her skin was died 100% blue and now it was her turn. The SSS turned against her by murdering her. They tore of all her legs and arms. shortly after, she was lit on fire and left for the cats to eat.

And this is nothing compared to the racist interjections that continually mar the Tuskegee Airmen pages.

How many times per day / week / month / year can a page be vandalized bfore it is granted semi-protection or protection? Do the admins and the WP Foundation really want the WP to be visibly marred by such racist material at any given time?

Yes, i realize the nobility of the idea of a geek-driven collective encyclopedia, but the truth is, there are people in the world who are, to varying degrees, racially biased sociopaths -- and we know exactly who their targets are. Once a page has been vandalized as many times as this page has, shouldn't it be accorded the protection of allowing only registered users to contribute?

I know, some feel that this is "admitting defeat" or "not upholding the freedom of expression that is at the core of WP's mission" -- but what about the young READER who comes here to learn about Bessie Smith? What about the injuries to the emotions of those who come here to learn about Black heroes and are -- on a daily basis -- subjected to shit-talk by racists?

I realize that this is a big issue, and that i am only one contributor, and a fairly new one at that, but take a look at the history of this page. It tells a story. You may think it is the story of valiant WP anti-vandals controlling the evil hordes of vandals, but i see a different story: it is a story of young black girls coming to this page to read about a cultural icon of their own race and finding racist trash talk -- again. And again. And again.

Who is WP for -- the brave bots and editors who pat themselves on the back for fighting off vandals -- or the readers?

Just questions. I welcome responses here. This page is now on my watchlist.

Catherineyronwode 17:49, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

Suspect census information[edit]

I find the census info suspicious, it does not jive with my own research of the past 4 decades. That Bessie's siblings had left home by 1910 is definitely wrong, and there is more misinformation. Where the two mulatto children came from is another mystery--I suspect it is just another instance of the vandalism this entry seems to attract. I hope nobody here minds if I remove such unsubstantiated embroidery.

Christiern Albertson 22:34, 9 February 2007 (UTC)

Note: Nothing in the census states she left home in 1910. The mulatto children are not William and Laura's children.

I can understand your concern. Sadly, Bessie's page has been repeatedly vandalized. The 1910 Census record for Bessie is transcribed verbatim below. I would be happy to email a copy of the census image to anyone interested, as verification.

1910 Census Chattanooga Ward 7, Civil Dist 1, Hamilton Co., TN

14 School St.

Viola Smith Head Female Mulatto age 30 Divorced 1 child born 1 child still living born in AL Father born in AL Mother born in AL Occupation: Laundress At Home

Laura Smith Daughter Female Mulatto age 12 single born in TN Father born in USA Mother born in AL Occupation: None

Bessie Smith Sister Female Mulatto age 16 single born in TN Father born in AL Mother born in AL Occupation: None

Historybuff2283 09:58, 11 April 2007 (UTC)

Where's the music?[edit]

Until recently this site had a link to a site where a large number of Bessie's recordings could be heard. Where is it now? Who took it out? Removing it was inexcusable. Jm546 23:30, 1 May 2007 (UTC)

I don't know who deleted the links, but they may have been deleted if the recordings were there in violation of copyright laws. See Wikipedia:External links#Restrictions on linking: "Sites that violate the copyrights of others per contributors' rights and obligations should not be linked." Or I may be wrong, and they may have been deleted for some other reason. — Malik Shabazz | Talk 23:52, 1 May 2007 (UTC)

Here's the link: I can see taking it out if there was something illegal about it, but otherwise I should think it ought to be left in. Jm546 16:10, 4 May 2007 (UTC)

Wow! What a great site! I don't pretend to be a copyright expert, but according to its home page, "All the tunes are in the public domain." I'm not sure why it was removed from the article, but be bold and put it back. — Malik Shabazz | Talk 16:58, 4 May 2007 (UTC)

Yes, it is a great site. I use it frequently. As for putting the link back in, I don't know how; I barely know enough to post a comment. Perhaps you or someone else can do it. Jm546 20:26, 6 May 2007 (UTC)

Birth Date (revisited)[edit]

Rummaging through some papers that have been collecting dust in a closet for 36 years, I came across my official copy of Bessie and Jack's application for a marriage license. It has the following info:

Statement of Male Full name: John Gee Color: B Relationship of parties making application: None Occupation: Special Officer Birthplace: Va Residence: 1236 Webster Street Date of Birth: Mar 7/1889 That he has never been married before Name and surname of Father: Lilton of Mother: Lillie Maiden name of Mother: Alexander Residence of Father: Md of Mother: Md Color of Father: B of Mother: B Occupation of Father: Laborer of Mother: --- Birthplace of Father: Va of Mother: Va Is applicant an imbecile, epileptic, of unsound mind, or under guardianship as a person of unsound mind, or under the influence of any intoxicating liquor or narcotic drug: No Has applicant within five years been an inmate of any county asylum or home for indigent persons: No Is applicant physically able to support a family: Yes Signature of Applicant: John Gee (signed)

Statement of Female Full name: Bessie Smith Color: B Occupation: Artist Birthplace: Tenn Residence: ab. adr Date of Birth: April 15/1894 That she has never been married before Is applicant afflicted with any transmissible disease: No Name and surname of Father: William of Mother: Laura Maiden name of Mother: ----- Residence of Father: dead of Mother: dead Color of Father: B of Mother: B Occupation of Father: ---- of Mother: --- Birthplace of Father: Alabama of Mother: Alabama Is applicant an imbecile, epileptic, of unsound mind, or under guardianship as a person of unsound mind, or under the influence of any intoxicating liquor or narcotic drug: No Has applicant within five years been an inmate of any county asylum or home for indigent persons: No

Signature of Applicant: Bessie Smith (signed)

Sworn and subscribed to o me this 7 day of June A.D. 1923

Signed by Assistant Clerk of Orphan's Court

Christiern Albertson 14:45, 7 June 2007 (UTC)

Notes section[edit]

This was under notes ==Notes==

The Frank Silvera Writers Workshop premiered, BESSIE SMITH:EMPRESS OF THE BLUES on March 26, 1981 by Philadelphia dramatist Ed Shockley. The "cabaret musical" starring Ebony JoAnn Pinckney and directed by Charles Turner set a box office record and garnered three New York Audelco awards before continuing on to subsequent record setting productions in Chicago (Kuumba Theatre), Philadelphia (Theatre Center Philadelphia), Seattle (Madrona Youth Theatre) and Stockton, California (Stockton Players). The Chicago production, (presented under the altered title, LITTLE DREAMER - A NITE IN THE LIFE OF BESSIE SMITH) is notable for first starring legendary folk singer Odetta as Bessie Smith and her replacement, Broadway perrenial Jean DuShon.

--Tom 01:17, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

Columbia Records / "race records"[edit]

An IP editor added a comment to the article, which I've moved below. (It's in the parentheses).

In 1920, when sales figures for an Okeh recording by singer Mamie Smith (no relation) opened up a new market and had talent scouts looking for blues artists, Smith was signed by Columbia Records in 1923 to initiate the company's new "race records" series. (This is incorrect; Smith's first records were issued in the standard Columbia A- series between February, 1923 and September, 1923, when Columbia started the 13000-D Race Series. In December, 1923, they changed the numbering to the 14000-D series.)

Could somebody with a specialized knowledge of these things check the facts, respond here and, if necessary, change the article accordingly. Thanks. — Malik Shabazz (talk · contribs) 04:20, 27 January 2008 (UTC)

Unraveling the confusion[edit]

The original entry is not incorrect, but the confusion is understandable.

Bessie was signed by Columbia to initiate Columbia's "Race Records" division, which was headed by producer Frank Walker. When she first signed with the label, in January, 1923, the new division had not yet been fully established, so her first releases were issued into the standard "A" sequence of catalog numbers, but entered into the race (actually "foreign language" ledger. Walker also made the mistake of signing the deal with Clarence Williams, the pianist, who--characteristically--was trying to put one over on Bessie (he pocketed most of her fee). Although the first 9 couplings (made between mid-February and Sept. 26, 1923) were released prior to the initial 13000-D series, they were regarded by Columbia as being a part of the new Race series. So, what we have here is basically a technicality: Bessie 'was' signed to start the planned Race series, but the numerical designation came later in the year. In other words, there was a Race Records Division before someone thought of initiating a new numeric series to identify its releases. I could have put that in my biography, but it regarded it as a trivial technicality.

Hope the above helps. Chris Albertson (talk) 23:49, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

Birth/family census info (re-revisited)[edit]

I have been looking into the birth date issue and I am convince that the census info is wrong. As I have previously pointed out, it is not uncommon for people to shave some time off their birth year, but it is not common for them to alter the date (unless, like Louis Armstrong, they chose a special date, like July 4th). According to my interviews with family, Bessie celebrated her birthday in April, which is consistent with the date she gave on her 1923 marriage application. Ruby Walker celebrated many birthdays with Bessie, and the two were very close, very sharing. Somewhere, in the back of my mind there was a dim recollection of Bessie’s birthday having come up, so I went back to my many interviews with Ruby and finally found an interview in which I mention that my mother’s birthday was April 16. “That was Bessie’s birthday!”, Ruby exclaims. Then, after a few seconds... “no, it was the 15th, yeah, that’s right, the 15th of April.” Then she goes on to talk about a specific celebration held on stage with members of the cast having dinner.

I knew I had heard that, but couldn’t remember if it was recorded. I had so many off mic conversations with Ruby and hadn’t listened to those tapes in about 30 years! The question has bothered me ever since the contradictory information came up here and I reluctantly gave it the benefit of a doubt. What also raised a red flag for me was the assertion that Viola, Bessie’s oldest sister, was a “mulatto.” I’m afraid too much trust is put in census information. It should, even in our time, be taken with a grain of salt, but definitely when it goes back 100 or 150 years ago and concerns black families in the South. Sometimes the census takers were not well trained, but I suspect that their questions also also were considered intrusive and that they easily opened the door to deliberate misinformation. Chris Albertson (talk) 16:17, 31 May 2008 (UTC)

How did Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith meet?[edit]

There seems to be a contradiction with the information on the wiki page of Bessie Smith and the wiki page of Ma Rainey regarding how the two individuals met, specifically which singing group Ma Rainey was in when they first encountered.

Thatwonguy (talk) 02:29, 13 April 2009 (UTC)


I haven't contributed before, but was reading the article and wondered if there maybe should be a section on her personality/personal life? Bessie did have a pretty strong, rough personality, and had many interesting escapades in her life. For example, the incident where she chased the klu klux klan from one of her tent-performances, which i think was in 1927. Is it ok to write about this kind of stuff though, as although her fierce personality isnt debated, I can't really verify it..... Rox99 (talk) 19:28, 8 June 2009 (UTC)

Such information will require a verifiable citation. Bms4880 (talk) 21:20, 8 June 2009 (UTC)