Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Smith, Bessie (1894–1937)

Smith started singing professionally in 1912 and performed to success in vaudeville and black theatre throughout the 1920s. Clarence Williams brought her to New York to record her first album, Down-Hearted Blues, which was immensely popular and made her one of the most successful black artists of her time. She recorded blues with such jazz musicians as James P. Johnson and Louis Armstrong. In 1929, she made her film debut in St. Louis Blues. She continued to perform and record into the Great Depression after leaving Columbia Records, but struggled with alcoholism and died in a tragic car accident in 1937.