Top 5 LGBT Artists that Changed My Life

3. Bessie Smith

I didn’t know much about Bessie Smith until my freshman year of college. At that point I was taking an introduction to jazz class and heard this woman’s voice. My whole musical perspective shifted. She had a power of a voice, strong, defiant, and unapologetic.

Born in 1892 in Chattanooga, TN, Bessie Smith began performing from a very early age in order to help her family survive. When she was 29 years old, she began to record her own records, using her booming voice to express her pain and give new meaning to the jazz movement. 1923 was also the year that she met and fell in love with her husband. But that didn’t deter her from being romantically involved with both men and women — infidelity was more of a man’s turf back then, but Bessie Smith was a dynamo and even wore the black mark of unfaithfulness without flinching.

The first time I heard her voice I was watching a documentary of sorts. I saw a beautiful woman sitting on the floor of her apartment after having had a fight with her man. She wails, “My man’s got a heart like a rock that’s in the sea.” And holy hallelujah! What I thought about singers was blasted out of the water. There’s nothing like the Empress of the Blues singing the St. Louis Blues like she wrote it herself with all the power of a cannon ball.


As unexpected as my path was to loving all things weird, more unexpected is my ability to get attention for writing about the stuff.

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