“The Empress of the Blues,” as Bessie Smith was known among her fans, was among the most popular American performers of the 1920s and 30s. She began her career as a dancer touring with Ma Rainey in minstrel shows, then moved on to creating her own extravagant productions. Smith’s blend of blues and jazz, both slow and swing-tempo, was recorded on nearly 200 recordings, later remastered to correct for the technological limitations of the time. Since her death Smith has received several impressive commendations, including a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and her own postage stamp.
Smith had two husbands over the course of her life, one of which she remained with until her death, but her affairs with women are documented in some detail, indicating that she was likely bisexual.