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Children's LiteratureUndoubtedly the greatest blues singer of all times, Bessie Smith was born about 1894 in Chattanooga and grew up in poverty. She was orphaned by the age of nine. She and her brother Andrew, as children, earned money as street musicians. At age 18 Bessie joined a minstrel show company and later toured with vaudeville troupes, attracting more and more fans with her powerful singing. Her songs reflected the hard times she had endured, as well as the joys and pains of love. In 1923 she won a recording contract with Columbia. Continuing to tour cities in both the North and South and make records, Smith became the highest paid African American entertainer of the era. When the Depression hit, however, and people no longer wanted to hear the blues, her career began to slip. She changed to pop and jazz music, but just as she was recovering her popularity, she was fatally injured in an automobile accident in 1937. In addition to the biographical material on Bessie Smith, the author comments on segregation, the Civil War and slavery, Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance, Louis Armstrong and jazz, and Smith's legacy to singers Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. A glossary, timeline, list of sources of further information, and index are included. The illustrations are vintage black and white photographs. The series is "African-American Biographies." 2003, Raintree, Ages 9 to 12.
— Patricia Dole