Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26 1937) is largely regarded as the most popular and successful blues singer of 1920s and 1930s, and by some as the most influential performer in blues history. She has had an enormous influence on singers throughout the history of American popular music, including Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin, and Norah Jones.
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States on April 15, 1894, Bessie Smith was one of six surviving children of William and Laura Smith. According to Smith's biographer Chris Albertson in his seminal book Bessie (1972, revised in 2003), William Smith was a laborer who also worked as a part-time Baptist preacher, but he died before Bessie could remember him. By the time Bessie was nine, she had lost her mother as well, and her older sister Viola was left in charge of caring for the younger sisters and brothers. As a way of earning money for her impoverished household, Bessie and her younger brother Andrew began performing on the streets of Chattanooga as a singer/guitarist duo; their preferred location was in front of the White Elephant Saloon at Thirteenth and Elm streets in th...