“Bessie Smith: (originally Elizabeth) U.S. blues and jazz singer, one of the most distinctive stylists of classic blues and the most successful black entertainer of her time. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Smith sang popular songs as well as blues on the minstrel and vaudeville stage. She began recording in 1923 and appeared in the 1929 film St. Louis Blues. Her interpretations represent the fully realized tradition of the rural folk tradition of the blues to its urbane structure and expressiveness. A bold, supremely confident artist with a powerful voice and precise diction, she became known as ‘Empress of the Blues.’ She died from injuries sustained in a car crash, having apparently been refused treatment for reasons of racial prejudice.”
Excerpted/Adapted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.