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Thursday, 10 February 2022

Bessie Smith


A good few months ago I got Bessie Smith by Scottish poet and former Makar (poet laureate) Jackie Kay out of the library. I meant to do a post at the time but never quite got round to it.

In anticipation of posting I took a photo of the blurb on the inner jacket which I feel is worth sharing in full:

Bessie Smith was born in Tennessee in 1894. Orphaned by the age of nine,she sang on street corners before becoming a big name in travelling shows.In 1923 she made her first recording for a new start up called Columbia Records.It sold 780,000 copies and made her a star. Smith's life was notoriously difficult:she drank pints of "bathtub" gin, got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money  and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single - handedly fought off a cohort of the Ku Klux Klan.

As a young black girl growing up in Glasgow (Bishopbriggs) , Jackie Kay found in Bessie someone with whom she could identify and who she could idolise. In this remarkable book Kay mixes biography,fiction,poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life.

Well worth a read and a listen.

Bessie Smith - Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

Bessie Smith - There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Bessie Smith - Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl


  1. Jackie was a Wigan Soul and was sometimes on the bus there back in the day when buses ran down from Glasgow via Ayrshire and Carlisle stops.

  2. She has just gone up even more in my estimation

  3. Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl is from 1931! Ah yes, 1931, a more innocent age we say abstractedly and nod sagely. There's nothing new under the sun!