Today we’re taking a trip down memory lane to celebrate the legendary Bessie Smith, also known as the Empress of Blues. Born on April 15, 1894, Bessie was a talented jazz and blues singer who made a name for herself in the 1920s. Her powerful voice and fearless spirit inspired many female artists to come. Unfortunately, her career ended tragically when she died in a car accident at the young age of 43.
Despite her short career, Bessie Smith sang around 160 recordings and sold over six million records. That’s incredible! And we’re here to honor her by sharing our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list. We’re sure you’ll love them as much as we do.
Some of Bessie Smith’s most popular hits include “Down Hearted Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Careless Love Blues,” “After You’ve Gone,” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Her music was all about independence, fearlessness, and freedom. She believed that working women shouldn’t have to change the way they act to earn respect. Sadly, not everyone appreciated her style of music back then. People thought she was rougher than other female singers like Maime Smith.
But let’s not dwell on negativity, shall we? Bessie Smith’s talent shone through her powerful contralto vocal range, which still blows our minds today. Her music had the midas touch, and three of her songs have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: “Empty Bed Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “Down Hearted Blues.” In 2006, “Down Hearted Blues” was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll.
Bessie Smith was a trailblazer, and her legacy lives on today through many jazz and blues singers. She may not have been a stereotypical celebrity, but her influence was undeniable. Her plus-sized figure and fearless attitude paved the way for other female artists to feel comfortable in their own skin. In fact, she was honored with a postage stamp in 1994, and there have been tribute albums and even a movie made about her life.
So, without further ado, here are our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list. Enjoy!
10. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is another powerful blues song that’s relatable even today. The lyrics talk about how people tend to disappear when the money’s gone. Bessie’s voice is raw and passionate, and you can feel the grit in every note she sings. The music is soft, which lets you focus on her voice and the lyrics. It’s no wonder that this song has been covered by so many artists over the years.
9. Alexander’s Ragtime Band
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” is a bluesy track that tells a story about a wealthy family who disapproves of one of their members performing ragtime music. It’s like a soap opera set to music. The song’s symbolism is powerful because it shows the importance of pursuing what you love, even if it goes against what others want for you. Bessie’s voice is like an instrument, blending perfectly with the horn section. The song could use some drums, but it still rocks.
8. Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do
Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do is a song that speaks to the restrictions that were placed on black women during the Harlem Renaissance. Bessie Smith sings about the freedom to do what you want and the message is clear: people are responsible for their own actions. The melancholy beat of the song matches the theme perfectly, and the pianist’s incredible skills will make you want to learn to play.
Bessie Smith’s soulful voice will move you, and the way she phrases the words is everything. If you’re dealing with people who want to be in your business all the time or you’re a woman dealing with stereotypes, this is a song you should definitely listen to.
7. A Good Man Is Hard to Find
A Good Man Is Hard to Find is a song that offers advice to women who want to keep their men faithful. The pianist in this track is a maestro and the stripped sound of the piano gives the song a raw feel.
The lyrics are a cautionary tale about the difficulty of finding a good man, and the singer’s voice will enrapture you with its beauty. She belts out the song with so much emotion that you’ll feel every word she says. This is a must-listen track that everyone can relate to.
6. After You’ve Gone
Moving on to “After You’ve Gone,” Bessie warns her ex-lover that he’ll regret leaving her. This song is the ultimate breakup anthem and ahead of its time.
Even today, it still resonates with anyone who’s been dumped and wants to warn their ex of the misery they’ll face without them. Bessie’s angelic voice pours out her heart and soul in this track, making us feel like we’re on the journey with her.
5. I Ain’t Got Nobody
If you’re feeling lonely and looking for a man, then Bessie Smith’s “I Ain’t Got Nobody” will hit you in the feels. Despite being recorded decades ago, women still have trouble finding men, and this bluesy song captures that feeling perfectly.
Even if you’re in a relationship, you can still appreciate the talented musicianship and Bessie Smith’s powerful vocals.
4. Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
In “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home,” Bessie sings about a woman who has been dumped by her lover and is feeling lonely and desperate. She needs him to come back home because she can’t afford her rent.
The song has a bluesy beat, and the stripped-down piano accompaniment adds to the emotional impact. Bessie’s lower pitch and powerful voice perfectly convey the woman’s heartache and longing.
3. St. Louis Blues
This classic tune features a blues beat and tells a heartbreaking story about a woman who was left for another woman. It’s a timeless subject that still resonates today.
Bessie Smith’s vocals are simply fantastic. She sings in her lower register, which gives her voice a smoky and gritty quality that perfectly suits the somber music. Her delivery is so moving that you’ll find yourself cheering her on as she tells the story of betrayal and heartbreak.
2. Careless Love Blues
“Careless Love Blues” is a bitter song that expresses the disappointment and anger of a woman who has been betrayed by love. The horn section and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet add a jazzy touch to the track. Bessie’s powerful voice again takes center stage as she belts out the lyrics with conviction.
1. Down Hearted Blues
Our top pick is Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues.” This soulful tune will have you feeling all kinds of emotions as Bessie sings about a love that didn’t work out. She’s been hurt and is looking for someone who will treat her right.
The piano in this song is just beautiful. Clarence Williams plays it so well that you’ll be mesmerized by his skills. And Bessie’s vocals are just as amazing. She sings with so much passion that you’ll feel like you’re right there with her. She knows how to hit those high notes and bring the house down.
It’s no wonder that this song is one of her biggest hits. You can really feel the pain in her voice and the lyrics are so relatable. If you’re feeling down about a failed relationship, this song will speak to you. Just put it on and let yourself feel the emotions.
And if you didn’t know, this song was also covered by the one and only Ella Fitzgerald. But we still think Bessie’s version is the best. Give it a listen and see if you agree!