Racism and sexuality dominated all fields back in the history and blues music was no exception from that. If you ever mentioned blues female artists in the late 19th century all what comes to mind is an African American man holding a guitar and singing, while women had a great impact on that sort of music.
The History of Female Artists in Blues Music
The first hit blues song was released by a woman and all the iconic performance of the classic blues era were also by women, through 1920s female blues singer dominated the blues music field as they released many records. It is thought that between 1921 and 1922 female blues artists were recording many songs each week.
Many of the early blues songs featured jazz instruments with either a female cabaret singer or vaudeville performers. Mamie Smith and Ma Rainer both left a huge impact on blues music; Smith was able to dominate the white market with her songs as she sold over 75,000 copies of her song Crazy Blues in one month. While Rainer was the first black woman in that music to have that huge impact on the audience, she was also very sociable and traveled all over the united state for her magnificent performances and fame.
The Most Significant Female Blues Artists of All Time
Mamie Smith was the first African American to record a blues song, she recorded Crazy Blues in 1920 and put an incredible performance in it. The song sold a million copies in less than a year. Mamie was known as ‘The Queen Of Blues’ and she was the one who started the female blues era.
The major record companies raced to record with her which open the road to other female blues singers like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and other folk blues performers as Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Mamia Smith died in 1946 at the age of sixty-three which opened the way to other female blues artists like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.
Ma Rainey was known as ‘The Mother Of Blues’ and she was one of the most famous female blues singers in 20s. She was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1886, and begin performing in her early teens. she got married to William Rainey and started to perform with him in 1914, in 1923 she became a blues legend as she recorded eight songs to paramount records in Chicago.
These songs included Bo-Weevil Blues and Bad Luck Blues, although many tried to pollute her reputation by telling that she was bisexual and mocking her unattractive appearance she managed to convince her audience and became an inspiration for many African American people. After retiring from show business, she devoted herself to church work in her hometown.
Bessie was one of the greatest names in blues in the 20s and 30s throughout the whole world and was known as ‘The Empress of the Blues.’ She began busking on the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee as a child and in 1923 she recorded a hit song for Colombia Records called Downhearted Blues which sold 780,000 copies in just six months. As an African-American female, she faced the era’s norms of race and gender, but she overcame this and managed to have a worldwide preference in what she did. Bassie died in 1937 in a car crash, but she stills a legend in blues music history.
Ida was born in Pensacola, Florida to a musical family. Her parents played piano and her sisters as well, blues music was panned at her house as her father was a deacon at Pensacola’s Mount Olive Baptist Church. He only taught his daughters playing piano for church’s services, all the sisters played blues at home while their father was out and that is when Ida’s passion for blues started.
She started her musical career playing piano in most of the gulf coast clubs, by the time she became more famous as a blues artist. One of her most significant preforms was at the Florida Folk Festival and she also received the Folk Heritage Award in 1987. Ida Goodson died in 2000 but there still many people out there celebrating her musical career as a significant blues artist.
One of the most female blues artists that suffered from racism and sexual abuse, she was born as a result of her mother’s rape and never received any kind of love from her family. She was married at the age of thirteen and suffered from an abusive relationship, that is why she escaped from her husband to start her life.
Her suffered didn’t deprive her of that amazing voice and by the time she became very popular for outstanding performances like His Eye Is On The Sparrow. Ethel recorded a hit song in 1925 called I’ve Found A New Baby, she was also the first singer to perform the famous Stormy Weather.
Alberta Hunter was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1895, she started her career strongly by participating in the writing of the hit song Downhearted Blues to Bessie Smith. She has many great performances that can’t be forgotten like Ready Man, Double-Jointed, and Two-Fisted. Alberta quite singing in the mid-50s to become a nurse.
Lizzie Douglas known as ‘Memphis Minnie’ was one of the strongest women in blues music, she never accepted men foolishness as she would go for anyone was mocking her right way. Lizzie was also a great guitar player earning the guitar legends’ respect like Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red by her marvelous talent. Not to mentions her songwriting skills, she was the co-writer with Kansas Joe McCoy who later became her husband in the famous song ‘When The Levee Breaks.’
Victoria was born in Houston, Texas in 1906 and she was a great blues singer, her most significant performance was in 1936 when she sang TB Blue. Victoria Spivey is a legend in blues music that will never fade away, she also quite singing in her mid-50s to join the church.
While Mamie Smith was The Queen Of Blues, Ida Cox was ‘The Uncrowned Queen Of Blues.’ She was a great performer and considers one of the greatest in the classic female blues period, Coffin Blues and What Did I Do To Be So Black And Blue are some of her best releases. In the 60s she recorded her last album after retirement with Coleman Hawkins Quintet which considered a treat for all classic blues lover, you can buy it from Amazon.
Blue Lu Barker
Blue Lu Barker is the stage name for Louise Dupont, although she didn’t have great vocal capabilities she left a big mark in the female blues music world. A Little Bird Told Me and Don’t You Feel My Leg are some of her greatest works.
For a long period in the 19th-century blues has been known as the devil’s music, that is why may African- American were torned up between their love to God and their passion in blues. She was born in 1895 and never liked to be defined as a blues singer, rather be known as a performer in many different styles.
Lizzie suffered once from a serious illness and vowed in prayer that she wouldn’t perform again if she was saved from that illness, but after being well she was persuaded to perform again. Though at the rest of her career she performed beside the stage, Salty Dog and the Creole jazz of Eh La Bas are from her best songs.
Gladys Bentley was one of her kind, while many female blues artists were accompanied by an orchestra in that period she used to perform on her own. She was also very open about her sexual tendencies, as she used to wear men’s clothes and tuxedos. She had a great voice and great piano skills, she made a well-known appearance in Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life TV show where she demonstrated her skills.
Rosa Henderson is one of the greatest artists in the classic female blues era, she started singing with her uncle’s carnival troupe in Texas until she got married to Slim Henderson and began touring with Mason Henderson Show. She also performed in musical comedies in New York and recorded around 100 songs under pseudonyms like Gladys White, Rosa Green, Bessie Williams, Josephine Thomas, Flora Dale, Mamie Harris, Sarah Johnson, Sally Ritz.
Despite being a great artist her career went into decline and ended up working in a department store in the 30s, Don’t Give Me What I Want and Don’t Advertise Your Man is from her best-known records.
Sara Martin known for her killing performance in Death Sting Me Blues, she performed under pseudonyms like Margaret Johnson and Sally Roberts. Sara recorded many songs in the 20s like other female blues artists and she retired after the classic female blues era has ended to work as a home nurse.
Bertha ‘Chippie’ Hill
Bertha started her career as a dancer, but she quit it after a while to join the world of blues music and entered the club circuit with other great blues legends like Ethel Waters and Ma Rainey. She recorded many songs for Okeh label and collaborated with other artists like Lonnie Johnson and Tampa Red. Chippie retired in the 30s, but she made a strong comeback as achieving huge success in the jazz scene. Unfortunately, she couldn’t complete her amazing career as she was killed by a car in 1950.
Lucille Hegamin was the second African-American artist to release a blues record, she had her own style as she sang in a frothier pop style and many female singers followed her such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Her hit song has a very long title and she known for her love for this stuff, it is called He May Be Your Man But He Comes To See Me Sometime.
She also has other famous amazing recordings like You May Be Fast But Mamma’s Gonna Slow You Down. She retired in the 30s like many other female artists when the female blues era ended, but she had a comeback in the 60s when the female blues took place again.
Eva Taylor was known as ‘The Dixie Nightingale’ she was born in St Louis, Missouri and she started her career as a performer at age three and she toured the world before hitting her teens. She was a great jazz and blues singer due to her attractive style that made her a hit back in that era, Eva recorded her first song for Black Swan Records.
Candy Lips was one of her hit songs, she performed it with the pianist Clarence Williams who was her husband. She was one of the greatest singers in the 40s and she continued performing in the 60s and 70s.
Ruth known as a pop singer with blues soul, she recorded sixteen hit song for Atlantic Records five of them were number one. Due to her success, the company known as ‘The House That Ruth Built.‘ She retired in the 60s as she devoted herself to the family, but she returned in 1975 to make a strong comeback. Ain’t Nobody’s Business was her hit blues song that she collaborated in with BB King, she joined to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as ‘Queen Mother of the Blues.’
Rory Block known as the Master Of Country Blues, she was inspired by the legendary Robert Johnson as her hit album was named The Lady and Mr. Johnson which included thirteen great songs for him like Cross Roads Blues, Rambling On My Mind, Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Walking Blues.