Women in Blues Throughout History
The first blues song recorded by a black female vocalist, was sung by Mamie Smith in 1920. During both World Wars, the ladies of the blues kept it going like their Rosy the Riveter counterparts, the day never ended. Booking the band, sewing costumes, cooking meals, keeping the band out of harm & putting on a show.
Sometimes, while raising a baby.
Our mission is promoting the artists of the day, but knowing our history helps us move forward. May these lists and links to archives, serve many!
History can live through the modern blues woman.
Listen to the original "At Last" as recorded by legend Etta James. Then, breathe in Teeny Tucker's rendition of the classic blues hit. Both interpretations are beautiful, and both reflect the spirit of the blues.
Performance is the act of keeping the blues alive, and honoring the women in blues who came before. Below are some of their stories.
We at National Women in Blues hope you find them informational and inspirational.
Mamie Smith was the first black vocalist to record the blues. The song was “Crazy Blues,” and it became a hit. But it happened almost by accident… more/source
(CBW Note: Prior to 1920. 3 people all recorded a WC Handy tune, including Handy. The song Memphis Blues. It should not discount that Mamie Smiths recording of Crazy Blues did help create a commercially viable market, for the blues.)
Singer Ma Rainey was the first popular stage entertainer to incorporate authentic blues into her song repertoire and became known as the “Mother of the Blues.”… more/source
When Ida Goodson (b.1909 – d.2000) received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1987, it was noted that by the age of 16, she had begun what she became noted for later in her musical life: skillfully intertwining jazz, blues and gospel music. Guitarist and writer Eugene Chadbourne says that blues music was banned from the Goodson family home, yet the sisters found a way to feed their soul… more/source
Bellmont-De villiers on Ida Goodson, Florida Division of Historical Resources on Ida Goodson, Florida Memory State Archives, audio interview with Ida Goodson (audio an issue…. Transcript of Podcast for our readers), AllMusic.com on Ida Goodson
Blues singer Alberta Hunter debuted in Chicago at age fifteen in 1912, toured throughout the world and sang leading roles in Europe and on Broadway. Born in 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee, she appeared in top Chicago nightclubs, including the Dreamland Cafe, where she shared the spotlight with the King Oliver Band. In 1921 Hunter made her first recording on the Black Swan label with her own song, “Down Hearted Blues.” … more/source
The New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts for Alberta Hunter, Blackpast.org on Alberta Hunter, TheFamousPeople.com on Alberta Hunter, NotableNurses.com on Alberta Hunter, Encyclopedia Britannica on Albert Hunter, MTV.com on Alberta Hunter, RedHotJazz.com o Alberta Hunter, NY Times Obit for Alberta Hunter
A major influence on the development of the blues in the early twentieth century, Bessie Smith was given a challenging start to her life, raised in poverty in the then still-segregated South. She was one of seven children born to laborer and Baptist minister William Smith and his wife Laura, but had lost both parents by the age of nine and was subsequently raised by her oldest sister Viola (who was herself only a teenager and already looking after a child of her own). While still very young, Bessie, accompanied by her brother Andrew on guitar, began dancing and singing on the streets in order to supplement her sister’s income as a laundry worker… more/source
NNDB.com on Bessie Smith, History VS Hollywood.com on Bessie Smith, ALLMusic.com on Bessie Smith, History.com on Bessie Smith, RedHotJazz.com on Bessie Smith, PBS.org, Jazz a Film by Ken Burns, on Bessie Smith, Biography.com on Bessie Smith
Guitar Queen. Hoodoo Lady. Master finger-style guitar player. Elizabeth “Kid” Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie was an intricate guitarist, an astute songwriter and a stylistic innovator. Her work (over 200 recordings) leads the way through the development of blues guitar playing, starting with her first recordings in 1929….more/source
They called Atlantic Records “the house that Ruth built” during the 1950s, and they weren’t referring to the Sultan of Swat. Ruth Brown’s regal hitmaking reign from 1949 to the close of the ’50s helped tremendously to establish the New York label’s predominance in the R&B field. Later, the business all but forgot her — she was forced to toil as domestic help for a time — but she returned to the top, her status as a postwar R&B pioneer (and tireless advocate for the rights and royalties of her peers) recognized worldwide… more/source
MTV.com on Ruth Brown, RockHall.com on Ruth Brown, AllMusic.com on Ruth Brown, Biography.com on Ruth Brown, Encyclopedia Britannica on Ruth Brown, SoulPatrol.com on Ruth Brown, Last.FM on Ruth Brown, NY Times Obit for Ruth Brown
Koko Taylor (September 28, 1928 – June 3, 2009) was an American blues musician, popularly known as the “Queen of the Blues.” She was known primarily for her rough and powerful vocals and traditional blues stylings… more/source
Last.FM on Koko Taylor, Alligator Record catalog on KoKo Taylor, Oldies.com on Koko Taylor, ALLMusic.com on Koko Taylor, Queen of the Blues talks about her subjects… article by James Plath, NPR.org Music on Koko Taylor, CNN Obit on KokoTaylor, NY Times Obit on Koko Taylor
Born in Los Angeles, California, on January 25, 1938, Etta James was a gospel prodigy. In 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower.” Her career had begun to soar by 1960, due in no small part to songs like “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last.” Despite her continued drug problems, she earned a Grammy Award nomination for her 1973 eponymous album. In 2006, she released the album All the Way. James died in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012, and continues to be is considered one of the most dynamic singers in music… more/source
Bigraphy.com on Etta James, ALLMusic.com on Etta James, Rolling Stone Top 100 Greatest Singers on Etta James, Last.FM on Etta James, RockHall.com on Etta James, NPR Remembering Etta James, CNN Obit on Etta James, Time Magazine Obit on Etta James, NY Times Obit on Etta James, BrainyQuote.com on Etta James
Sippie Wallace, like fellow classic blues singer Victoria Spivey, was born in Texas and carried with her a tradition of Texas-styled blues that emphasized risqué lyrics and rough-cut, rural vocal phrasing rather than the sophisticated accents of the era’ s more cosmopolitan blues singers… more/source
SouthernMusic.net on Sippie Wallace, Lost Art of Being a Dame on Sippie Wallace, African American Registry on Sippie Wallace, About.com Blues on Sippie Wallace, ALLMusic.com on Sippie Wallace, Texas State Historical Association on Sippie Wallace, RedHotJazz on Sippie Wallace
Her recordings range from the bouncy Baker-esque ‘Aw! Shucks Baby’ to driving rockers such as ‘Come On, Come On, Come On’ and ‘You Shocked Me”
The History of Women in Blues
(Includes links to lesson plans and more)
A strong overview of the history of female blues artists. Includes links, source and more!
Our CBW used this site heavily, early on.
Tribute Apparel did a interesting blog of links, on Blues and Jazz women in history. Complete with video links and more!
PBS has done incredible coverage of the blues, via their documentaries and those of many filmmakers. This particular link is great for teachers.
It has lesson plans!
For some unknown reason the women blues singers never got the true recognition as the men did that they rightly deserved. Their songs were not as popular as the men except for a few like Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” and Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues.” The majority of the women did not receive celebrated status as the men did.
The ladies that sang and played the blues were as talented as the men were and in several cases they excelled their male counterpart. Memphis Minnie McCoy could play the guitar better than most men and often challenged them and won…. more/source
ALL Music.com List of Female Blues Artists from History
Created by Rateyourmusic.com. Includes WiB’s of modern times and in history.
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WE WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD THIS PART OF OUR SITE AS A TRIBUTE TO WOMEN IN BLUES
We hope it serves artists, teachers, scholars, filmmakers and more. If you know of a site that includes history of female blues artists, or lesson plans and seminars on blues women, let us know!