Saturday, August 23, 2008

Classic Female Blues

The Classic Female Blues music is a part of the blues that I love to high light for many reasons. According to Wikipedia;

The classic female blues spanned from 1920 to 1929 with its peak from 1923 to 1925. The most popular of these singers were Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Alberta Hunter, Clara Smith, Edith Wilson, Trixie Smith, Lucille Hegamin and Bertha “Chippie” Hill. Hundreds of others recorded including Lizzie Miles, Sara Martin, Rosa Henderson, Martha Copeland, Bessie Jackson (Lucille Bogan), Edith Johnson, Katherine Baker, Margaret Johnson, Hattie Burleson, Madlyn Davis, Ivy Smith, Alberta Brown, Gladys Bentley, Billie and Ida Goodson, Fannie May Goosby, Bernice Edwards and Florence Mills.

They sang often backed behind their bands consisting of piano, several horns and drums. These women were pioneers in the record industry: they were among the first black singers recorded, they were the first blues singers recorded, and they were instrumental in spreading the 12-bar blues form throughout the country. In terms of performing, they often wore elaborate outfits and sang of the injustices of their lives, bonding with their audience’s sorrows. Their schedules were grueling, staying on the road most of the time with tent shows in the summer and theatres during the winter. With the crash of Wall Street in 1929, the popularity of the blues singers declined. Some went back home, took up jobs or moved to Hollywood. In the '60s with the blues revival, Sippie Wallace, Alberta Hunter, Edith Wilson and Victoria Spivey returned to the stage.

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, from Georgia, was the “Mother of the Blues,” and lived from 1886–1939. She was the first woman to incorporate blues into her act of show songs and comedy. In 1902, she heard a woman singing about the man she’d lost, and quickly learned the song. From then on at each performance, she used it as her closing number calling it “the blues.” She recorded over 100 songs and wrote 24 of them herself. “Bessie Smith (and all the others who followed in time), wrote jazz historian Dan Morgenstern “learned their art and craft from Ma, directly or indirectly.” Young women followed Ma Rainey’s path in the tent show circuit, since black performers were not allowed to be in venues. Eventually most singers were booked on the T.O.B.A. (Theatre Owners Booking Association) circuit.
Books on Classic Female Blues

Albertson, Chris. Bessie. New York: Stein & Day Publishers, 1972. ISBN 0-300-09902-9

Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. New York: Random House, Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-679-77126-3

Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the '20s. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8135-1279-4

Lieb, Sandra. Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. Amhearst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981. ISBN 0-87023-394-7

Placksin, Sally. American Women in Jazz: 1900 to the Present. Los Angeles: Wideview Books, 1982. ISBN 0-87223-756-7

Stewart-Baxter, Derrick. Ma Rainey and the Classic Blues Singers. New York: Stein & Day Publishers, 1970. ISBN 0-8128-1321-9

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