Personalities | Mamie Smith | Twenties | Jazz & Blues

(Vocals, 1883–1946)

Mamie Smith’s first recording session, for OKeh in 1920, resulted in a pair of nondescript pop songs, but her manager Perry Bradford then talked the label into recording her as a blues singer. On 10 August 1920, fronting a band dubbed the Jazz Hounds – featuring stride pianist Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith (no relation) and possibly also cornettist Johnny Dunn – Smith cut the first record ever billed as a ‘blues’: ‘Crazy Blues’. It sold upwards of a million copies, and in support she toured with a flamboyant show that featured trapeze artists, comedians, dancers and other embellishments from her vaudeville past.

Despite her horn-like vocal timbre and emotional delivery, Smith was not really a blues singer: her rhythmic sense was pedestrian, her intonation stiff. But ‘Crazy Blues’ virtually defined the genre – at least as a recorded popular music – for a generation of women vocalists who followed, each one of whom came in through the door that Mamie Smith had opened.

Styles & Forms | Twenties | Jazz & Blues
Personalities | Pine Top Smith | Twenties | Jazz & Blues

Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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