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Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer widely renowned during the Jazz Age. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and was a major influence on fellow blues singers, as well as jazz vocalists.

On September 26, 1937, Smith was critically injured in a road traffic accident on U.S. Route 61. She was taken to the G. T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where her right arm was amputated, but died that morning without regaining consciousness. A since-discredited story later emerged that she had died because a whites-only hospital in Clarksdale had refused to admit her. The circumstances surrounding her death formed the basis for Edward Albee's 1959 one-act play The Death of Bessie Smith.

Photograph credit: Carl Van Vechten; restored by Adam Cuerden

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