Bessie Smith A poet's biography of a blues legend

Jackie Kay, 1961-

Book - 2021

"Known for her prodigious musical talent, her timeless blues narratives about personal and socioeconomic problems, her tough persona, and her innate ability to enrapture audiences with her raw voice, Bessie Smith--the Empress of the Blues--receives a unique biographical treatment in this special life narrative captured by one of Scotland's finest poets. By masterfully blending research, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and her own experiences in listening to Bessie Smith, Jackie Kay brings... Smith to life, chronicling her humble beginnings in Tennessee to her national touring and recording success to her troubled relationships and her tragic end. The result is a lyrical tribute that not only captures Smith's personality but manages to reproduce her voice as her lyrics echo throughout the text. Bessie Smith lives on, and as Kay argues, she is relevant now more than ever"--

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781.643092/Smith
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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor New Shelf 781.643092/Smith (NEW SHELF) Due May 20, 2022
Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Vintage Books 2021.
Edition
Vintage books original
Language
English
Item Description
"Originally published... in Great Britain by Absolute Press, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, Bath, in 1997, and subsequently published reat Britian by Faber & Faber Limited, London, in 2021."--Title page verso.
Physical Description
xiv, 205 pages ; 21 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN
9780593314272
0593314271
Main Author
Jackie Kay, 1961- (author)
  • 'The red graveyard'
  • Introduction
  • In the house of the blues
  • Chattanooga, 1894
  • In the Ma's footsteps
  • The trunk and the no-good man
  • Wax
  • Ruby on the road
  • Tales of the Empress
  • The blues
  • Mississippi, 1937.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Black lesbian Scots poet, playwright, memoirist, and novelist Kay begins her portrait of renowned blues singer Bessie Smith with a poem, "The Red Graveyard," in which she combines African American imagery (Jelly Roll and the blues) with Scottish imagery (sausage rolls, frying pans, and treacle). Kay was a child when she first heard Smith's voice and picked up the record jacket to see her "magnificent Black face." This is a very personal work, not only a biography but also a memoir. Adopted and brought up in suburban Glasgow by a white Scottish communist father who loved the blues, Kay was "transported" by Bessie Smith's renditions and wondered, "Might Chicago be a place I would go when I grew up?" Kay looked different from everyone around her, even her parents. Since there were no Black Scottish heroes when she was growing up, she claimed Bessie as her own. Kay asserts that Smith's voice and life reflect what's going on today, from climate change and the coronavirus to Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement. "Her narratives are even eerily prescient," and "the perfect antidote to these times," she writes. This is a uniquely lyrical book by an exceptional writer about identity, racism, sexism, and the cultural life of a complicated, profoundly influential blueswoman. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Known for her prodigious musical talent, her timeless blues narratives about personal and socioeconomic problems, her tough persona, and her innate ability to enrapture audiences with her raw voice, Bessie Smith--the Empress of the Blues--receives a unique biographical treatment in this special life narrative captured by one of Scotland's finest poets. By masterfully blending research, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and her own experiences in listening to Bessie Smith, Jackie Kay brings Smith to life, chronicling her humble beginnings in Tennessee to her national touring and recording success to her troubled relationships and her tragic end. The result is a lyrical tribute that not only captures Smith's personality but manages to reproduce her voice as her lyrics echo throughout the text. Bessie Smith lives on, and as Kay argues, she is relevant now more than ever"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A beautiful genre-bending tribute to the larger-than-life blues singer Bessie Smith. Scotland’s National Poet blends poetry, prose, fiction, and nonfiction to create an entirely unique biography of the Empress of the Blues.There has never been anyone else like Bessie Smith. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894 and orphaned by the age of nine, Bessie Smith sang on street corners before becoming a big name in traveling shows. In 1923, she made her first recording for the newly founded Columbia Records. It sold 780,000 copies and catapulted her to fame. Known for her unmatched vocal talent, her timeless and personal blues narratives, her tough persona, and her ability to enrapture audiences with her raw voice, the Empress of the Blues remains a force and an enigma. In this remarkable book, Kay combines history and personal narrative, poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life, and to capture the soul of the woman she first identified with as a young Black girl growing up in Glasgow. Powerful and moving, Bessie Smith is at once a vivid biography of a central figure in American music history and a personal story about one woman’s search for recognition. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL.