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Black Lives, Black History: Bessie Smith

Guide to research and resources for African American History.

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith (1894-1937), also known as the Empress of Blues, is considered one of the greatest jazz and blues vocalists of the 1920s. Her influences can be seen and heard in performers such as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin.



1989 awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

1989 inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

2001 "Downhearted Blues" named one of the Songs of the Century by the National Endowment for the Arts

2002 "Downhearted Blues" placed on the National Recording Preservation Board by the Library of Congress

2006 "Downhearted Blues" placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame.


In the Library


Bessie / directed by Dee Rees. Library call number DVD DRAMA BES

Jazz Episode 3 / directed by Ken Burns. Library call number DVD DOCU JAZ 3