Monday, March 9, 2009

Bessie Smith

Here's patriarchy (and feminist reaction, perhaps?) in a nutshell:

I've got a hard workin' man
The way he treats me I can't understand

He works hard every day
And on Sat'day throws away his pay

Now I don't want want that man
because he's done gone cold in hand
--Bessie Smith, "Cold In Hand"

(Full lyrics here)

It seems like everyone has heard of Bessie Smith, but few besides jazz/blues musicians actually seem listen to her. And many of those are actually listening for Louie! (It's even worse when you consider that Smith was the most popular blues singer of her time!)

It's really a shame. Bessie Smith was an amazing woman. To be sure, she was rough, rude (and what's wrong with that?), and often violent, but she was strong, independent, hard-working, and had some amazingly insightful things to say about the world.

Her songs range from blues about love and abuse and the relationship between the two (too many to count!) to alcoholism (Gin House Blues) to objectification of men(!) (Do Your Duty, I'm Wild About That Thing) to capital punishment (of sorts, in Send Me To The 'lectric Chair) to sexuality (see here)

The wonderful thing about blues, is that it simply tells it like it is. The lyrics are simple, the first line is repeated twice so we're certain to hear it. And Bessie Smith tells it like nobody else ever has.

Send me to the 'lectric chair:

Sobbin' Hearted Blues:

I'm wild about that thing:

(By the way - this post was so late because I was looking for a blues, possibly by Smith, which started with the line "I got a husband/ He beats me every day". Scared me half to death the first time I heard it, but now I can't find it. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, I'd be eternally grateful!)

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