Empress Bessie

My pantheon of 20th-century American musical performers hasn’t changed much since the 1960s.  There are others who should be in it (like Louis Armstrong), but they never moved me the way these did: Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan….  Others include Leadbelly, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, and Sarah Vaughan.

The first of these I became aware of were Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, and Woody Guthrie, all around the same time in the early 1960s or possibly the late 1950s.  Of this trio, the one whose music still moves me most is Bessie Smith.

Here’s a sampling of her music from YouTube (you may have to click on the link to watch on the YouTube site).  She’s worth a listen, for those not familiar with her, though style and recording technology have changed dramatically since her day:

Last week, Jan and I went to see The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith.  Miche Braden’s Bessie is excellent, though she hasn’t quite the power of the original, or the ability to tug quite so hard on the heartstrings.  Still, she made remember all of the times when listening to Smith’s music fit my needs perfectly.