Some of the earliest pioneers of recorded blues were women, such as Mamie Smith, who in 1920 made Crazy Blues. That record, the first female blues recording, went on to sell 75,000 copies a month making Smith a huge national personality. Record companies snapped into action and began signing up other African-American women in the hope of repeating the success of Crazy Blues.
Marketed exclusively to African-American consumers, largely by advertisements in black newspapers such as The Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier, the blues recordings were typically labeled as “race records” to distinguish them from records sold to white audiences. Nonetheless, the recordings of some of the classic female blues singers were purchased by white buyers as well—for instance, Lucille Hegamin’s recordings on the Paramount label in 1922, which were issued as part of the label’s “popular” series rather than its “race” series.
The most popular of the classic blues singers was Tennessee-born Bessie Smith, who first recorded in 1923. Known as the “Empress of the Blues”, she possessed a large voice with a “T’ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” attitude. Bessie (who was unrelated to Mamie Smith) had toured on the T. O. B. A. circuit since 1912, originally as a chorus girl; by 1918 she was appearing in her own revue in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She struggled initially to be recorded—three companies turned her down before she was signed with Columbia. She eventually became the highest-paid black artist of the 1920s, and recorded over 160 songs.
Ma Rainey, whose popularity in the South was unrivaled, was little-known in the cities of the North until 1923, when she made her first recordings. She and Bessie Smith brought about a change in the style of the classic blues, as audiences came to prefer their rougher, earthier sound to that of the lighter-voiced, more refined blues singers who had preceded them on record. Ma Rainey recorded over 100 songs, 24 of them her own compositions. According to jazz historian Dan Morgenstern, “Bessie Smith (and all the others who followed in time) learned their art and craft from Ma, directly or indirectly.”
Other classic blues singers who recorded extensively were Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Sara Martin. Victoria Spivey and her cousin Sippie Wallace were both from Texas. Victoria Spivey was inspired by a Mamie Smith performance to become a blues singer, and achieved an overnight success in 1926 when Okeh released her first recording, her original “Black Snake Blues.” In 1929 she appeared in the first all-black talking film. (Wikipedia)
As you can guess, this penultimate Volume of American blues features many of these early, iconic ladies of the blues.
01 Crazy Blues – 1920 [Mamie Smith]
03 I Thought I’d To Do It – 1927 [Hattie McDaniel]
04 West Indies Blues – 1923 [Esther Bigeou]
05 Prove It On Me Blues – 1928 [Ma Rainey]
06 Death Letter Blues – 1939 [Ida Cox]
07 Coffee Grindin’ Blues – 1929 [Lucille Bogan]
08 Shake That Thing – 1925 [Ethel Waters]
09 Can’t Be Bothered With No Sheik – 1931 [Rose Henderson]
10 That Bonus Done Gone Thru – 1936 [Lil Johnson]
11 Midnight Weeping Blues – 1928 [Nellie Florence]
12 Cross-Eyed Blues – 1927 [Helen Humes]
13 Dope Head Blues – 1927 [Victoria Spivey]
14 The Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But… – 1938 [Georgia White]
15 How Long Daddy (Will You Keep Me This Way) – 1938 [Rosetta Howard]
16 Uncle Sam Come And Get Him – 1942 [Wea Wea Booze]
17 Trouble In Mind – 1941 [Rosetta Tharpe]
18 New Orleans Blues – 1932 [Blue Lu Barker]
19 Why Don’t You Do Right – 1941 [Lil Green]
20 Pallet On The Floor – 1937 [Merline Johnson]
21 Salty Papa Blues – 1943 [Dinah Washington]
22 Mailman Blues – 1938 [Tiny Mayberry]
23 Dream Lucky Blues – 1945 [Julia Lee]