Cover image for Bessie
Albertson, Chris.
Personal Author:
Revised and expanded edition.
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xix, 314 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
"Original edition published in 1972 by Stein and Day"--T.p. verso.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML420.S667 A7 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML420.S667 A7 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A biography of Bessie Smith, the great singer known as the Empress of the Blues. Considered by many to be the greatest blues singer of all time, Bessie Smith was also a successful vaudeville entertainer who became the highest paid African-American performer of the roaring twenties. This revised and expanded edition of the biography of this extraordinary artist, debunks many of the myths that have circulated since her untimely death in 1937.

Author Notes

Chris Albertson is the acknowledged authority on Bessie Smith. A long-time contributor to Stereo Review, Down Beat, Saturday Review, and other publications, he has written extensive liner notes for jazz and blues albums and has produced a wide array of recordings, radio, and television programs

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In 2005, jazz journalist Albertson revised and expanded his 1972 biography of Bessie Smith (1894-1937), adding depth and texture to what was already the definitive biography of the singer's life and work. He included more details of Smith's early years, new interview material, and a chapter devoted to events and responses that followed the original publication. His use of research and interviews (including interviews with her remaining family members) offer a broader look at the world of vaudeville and the music business. While Smith, who was known as the "Empress of the Blues," was the highest paid African American entertainer of the 1920s and considered by some to be the greatest blues singer of all time, may not be as well known to younger audiences as she once was, Albertson here firmly establishes her importance in the music industry. Robertson Dean offers a wonderfully nuanced reading. VERDICT The audiobook is recommended for readers who enjoy blues music and biographies of musicians. Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Albertson's biography of blues singer Bessie Smith was first published in 1972 and quickly gained "classic" status. The no-holds-barred story of the life and career of the "Empress of the Blues" was given substance, in large part, by the remarkable recollections of her niece Ruby Walker, who traveled with Smith's show for 15 years. The revised and expanded version of the book is not radically different from the original, but Albertson augments it with material and accounts that mostly surfaced in the wake of the first publication. It remains an arresting story of an unforgettable character and one of the most powerfully individual voices in American music. Although part of the "stir" created by the first publication was due to Albertson's setting straight the story of Smith's legendary death (an event that was colored by all sorts of racial overtones), Smith was fascinating throughout her life. This probably will always be the definitive account of that life and her music. Although there is not enough in the new edition to "change the story," Albertson does provide a number of new details (particularly related to Smith's childhood and youth). ^BSumming Up: Optional. All collections; all levels. K. R. Dietrich Ripon College

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. vii
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Bessiep. 1
Notesp. 293
Suggested Readingp. 301
Discographyp. 303
Indexp. 307