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Bessie Smith known as the Empress of the Blues was the most influential and controversial classical blues singer of the 1920s During her prime her powerful blues voice sold almost a million records and gave her a weekly salary of about 2000 placing her at the top of the blues charts Though she was often criticized for her reputation of drinking fighting and sexual encounters with both sexes she was a legend in the black community Even though her career ended prematurely due to a tragic car accident her music reached people throughout the south and the north and influenced later renowned singers like Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin Born in Chattanooga Tennessee sometime in 1894 Bessie Smith was raised by her older sister Viola after the early death of both her father and mother Her older brother Clarence was her number one influence as a child and it was he who influenced her and her younger brother Andrew to begin their performing careers in the streets of Chattanooga Soon after Clarence began his professional career she was able to get an audition with the same Moses Strokes Company for whom he was performing She joined the traveling show in 1912 where she became friends with her mentor Ma Rainey a blues vocalist It was Rainey who taught Smith the basics of blues singing Bessie Smith traveled with the Moses Strokes Company until 1915 when she left the group and moved to Philadelphia Here with her already established status among blacks in the south she began recording her music with Columbia Records This did not come right away though Many record companies denied her a chance to record because they said that her voice was too rough to record But once with Columbia she teamed up with pianist Clarence Williams in February of 1923 and recorded Gulf Coast Blues and Down Hearted Blues This first album sold more than 750000 copies
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