Backwater Blues

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"Backwater Blues"
Single by Bessie Smith
B-side"Preachin' the Blues"
Released1927 (1927)
RecordedNew York City, February 17, 1927
Songwriter(s)Bessie Smith

The song "Backwater Blues" is a blues and jazz standard written by Bessie Smith. Smith (on vocal with James P. Johnson on piano) recorded it as "Back-water Blues" on February 17, 1927, in New York City.[1]


The song has long been associated with the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.[2] However, that flood was at its worst some two months after the song was written. Study of Smith's touring itinerary, of testimony of fellow entertainers who toured with her, and of contemporary reports indicates that the song was written in response to the flood that struck Nashville, Tennessee on Christmas Day 1926. The Cumberland River, which flows through the city, rose 56 feet (17 m) above its normal level, still a record as of 2014.[3]


The lyrics are in the often-used AAB blues format. The words vary from one performer to another; this opening verse is representative:

When it rains five days, and the skies turn dark as night (2×)
There's trouble taking place in the lowland that night

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bessie Smith". Archived from the original on November 21, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
  2. ^ Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  3. ^ Evans, David (2007). "Bessie Smith's 'Back-Water Blues': the story behind the song" (PDF). Popular Music. Cambridge University Press. 26 (1): 97–116. doi:10.1017/s0261143007001158. S2CID 162113442. Retrieved December 16, 2014.