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Downhearted Blues

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"Down Hearted Blues"
Sheet music for "Down Hearted Blues"
Single by Alberta Hunter
Released1922 (1922)
RecordedJuly 1922, New York City
Composer(s)Lovie Austin
Lyricist(s)Alberta Hunter
Audio sample
Recording of Downhearted Blues, performed by Alberta Hunter (1922)
Audio sample
Recording of Downhearted Blues, performed by Bessie Smith (1923)

"Down Hearted Blues" is a blues song composed by musician Lovie Austin, with lyrics by American jazz singer Alberta Hunter.[1] The first line sets the theme for the song: "Gee but it's hard to love someone when that someone don't love you." Hunter sang it during her engagement at the Dreamland Cafe, in Chicago, where she performed with Joe "King" Oliver's band.[1]

Blues singer Bessie Smith recorded the song with piano accompaniment by Clarence Williams.[2] It was released as her first single (backed with "Gulf Coast Blues") and 780,000 copies were sold in the first six months.[3] One historian noted that "sales through the years plus the bootlegging of her discs must have made it a million seller".[4]

The National Recording Preservation Board included Smith's recording in the inaugural National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002.[5] The board recognizes songs that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[6] In 2001, the Recording Industry Association of America, with the National Endowment for the Arts, included it at number 315 in the list of the Top 365 "Songs of the Century".[7] The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame identified it as one of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock".[8] In 2006, Smith's recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.[9]

The 1923 sound recordings of the song entered the public domain in the United States in 2024.[10]


  1. ^ a b Weissman, Dick (2006). American Popular Music: Blues. Facts On File. pp. 9, 83. ISBN 9780415970686.
  2. ^ "Down Hearted Blues" (Single notes). Bessie Smith. New York City: Columbia Records. 1923. 78 label. A3844.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  3. ^ Felder, Deborah G. (2001). The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time. New York City: Citadel Press. p. 285. ISBN 0-8065-2271-2.
  4. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 13. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  5. ^ "Complete National Recording Registry Listing". Loc.gov/programs. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  6. ^ "Librarian of Congress Names 50 Sound Recordings to the Inaugural National Recording Registry". Loc.gov/programs. January 27, 2003. Archived from the original on February 2, 2007. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  7. ^ "The Recording Industry Association of America Top 365 Songs of the Twentieth Century". Theassociation.net. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  8. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: 'Downhearted Blues' – Bessie Smith". Rockhall.com. 1995. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  9. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Award: 'Downhearted Blues' – Bessie Smith: Columbia (1923, single)". Grammy.com. 2006. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  10. ^ "Public Domain Day 2024 | Duke University School of Law". web.law.duke.edu.

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