15 April 1894, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, d. 26 September 1937, Clarksdale, Mississippi, USA. In her childhood, Smith sang on street corners before joining a touring black minstrel show as a dancer. Also in the show was Ma Rainey, and before long the young newcomer was also singing the blues. The older woman encouraged Smith, despite the fact that even at this early stage in her career her powerful voice was clearly heralding a major talent that would one day surpass Rainey. By 1920 Smith was headlining a touring show and was well on the way to becoming the finest singer of the blues the USA would ever hear. Despite changing fashions in music in the northern cities of New York and Chicago, Smith was a success wherever she performed and earned her billing as the Empress of the Blues. For all her successes elsewhere, however, her real empire was in the south, where she played theatres on the Theatre Owners Booking Association circuit, packing in the crowds...
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