Bessie Smith – Down Hearted Blues

Let’s go back…way back. Music did exist before the 50s and sometimes I like to explore it. These are the talented artists who inspired later generations that we listen to. We cannot forget the pioneers of any genre. Artists like Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin, and Norah Jones have all given Bessie Smith credit as their inspiration.

Whenever I hear Bessie Smith I hear pain and greatness all at once. I’ve written about her song No One Loves You When You’re Down And Out and I’ve been revisiting her lately. This song was her debut single in 1923.

I got into Bessie Smith from listening to Janis Joplin and reading about her. Bessie’s voice sends chills up my spine…that is my litmus test. This particular song grabs me because of Smith’s voice and the recording vibe. She sings it, means it, and she damn well lived it. The sound of the record and her voice is just unbeatable. Yes, we have digital now but digital could not give you this sound.

She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 15, 1894. She lost her dad while she was an infant and her mom when she was 7-8 years old. She was raised by her tough older sister. To help support her orphaned siblings, Bessie began her career as a Chattanooga street musician, singing in a duo with her brother Andrew to earn money to support their poor family.

She is credited with recording more than 160 songs between 1923 and 1933. Smith performed on stage throughout the southern United States and recorded with such jazz greats as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Coleman Hawkins.

Before the Great Depression, Bessie was the highest-paid black entertainer in the world, collecting as much as two thousand dollars a week to perform. She was accompanied by great musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, and Benny Goodman.

This song was written by  Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin. The song is about a mistreated woman and had been recorded by fellow blues singer Alberta Hunter in 1922. A year later Bessie Smith sang it with pain, passion, and power as if it was her own song. The record sold more copies than any blues or jazz record had before…780,000 in the first six months after the release, #1 in the Billboard charts for 4 weeks, it helped to save Columbia from imminent bankruptcy and made Bessie a star.

They called Bessie Smith the “Empress of the Blues,” and for good reason.

Down Hearted Blues

Gee, but it’s hard to love someone
when that someone don’t love you!
I’m so disgusted, heart-broken, too;
I’ve got those down-hearted blues.

Once I was crazy ‘bout a man;
he mistreated me all the time,
The next man I get has got to promise me
to be mine, all mine!

Trouble, trouble, I’ve had it all my days,
Trouble, trouble, I’ve had it all my days,
It seems like trouble
going to follow me to my grave.

I ain’t never loved but three men in my life,
I ain’t never loved but three men in my life,
My father, my brother,
the man that wrecked my life.

It may be a week, it may be a month or two,
It may be a week, it may be a month or two,
But the day you quit me, honey,
it’s comin’ home to you.

I got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand,
I got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand,
I’m gonna hold it until
you meet some of my demands.