Beat Street Records

Rough Guide To Blues Women LP

World Music Network

The 1920s was undoubtedly the era of the female blues singer. With their origins in the worlds of vaudeville and jazz music, they enjoyed great commercial success throughout the decade, selling a considerable number of records and packing out clubs and theaters alike. Never has there been another time when women so dominated the genre and made the blues so much their own. Mamie Smith was the first to emerge from the vaudeville circuit and became the first African-American artist to make a blues recording in 1920 with the featured "Crazy Blues." The immense success of this recording opened the door for many others to follow such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Sippie Wallace and Ida Cox.

Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were undoubtedly the most captivating and expressive of what became known as the ‘classic blues' singers. Both dressed in flamboyant style and their powerful voices and forceful personalities set the standard for recorded blues, selling well among a southern rural audience familiar with their travelling tent shows and musical revues. Drawing upon some of the finest jazz talent of the early and mid-1920s for studio accompaniment, the classic blues of Smith, Rainey and other popular blues singers was always full of double entendre or hidden and multiple meanings. Although an outcrop of Southern rural blues, an expression of the poor and oppressed, the sequined glamour of the classic blues was seen as a welcome contrast to drab lives. So while the blues until the 1920s was largely local, rural, Southern and male, these women were urban performance artists, travelling and performing in the new speakeasies and nightclubs of a dynamic era.

The classic blues also had a great impact on important rural bluesmen, and here both Kate McTell and Bertha Lee are accompanied by their illustrious bluesmen husbands Blind Willie McTell and Charley Patton. Likewise, Blind Blake provides typically nimble and ingenious accompaniment for Irene Scruggs – commonly known as ‘Chocolate Brown' – on "Itching Heel" which demonstrates sublime interplay between the two. These vintage tracks highlight the significant role that women have played in the more rural aspects of early blues, which is further demonstrated by the haunting voice of Lottie Kimbrough whose self-penned song "Rolling Log Blues" has subsequently been recorded by many important blues performers.

When the Depression effectively ended the careers of many of the classic blues artists including Rainey and Smith, the blues revivalists were ultimately looking for an "authenticity" that they equated with the country blues, particularly that of the Mississippi Delta region, so many of the blues queens were largely forgotten. This welcome collection deservedly revives the memory of both the urban and rural female blues singers who played a pivotal role in the development of the blues. Includes accompanying download card giving you high quality MP3 versions of all the tracks from this record, as well as bonus Blues Women tracks

  1. Ma Rainey - Stack O' Lee Blues (1926)
  2. Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas - Pick Poor Robin Clean (1931)
  3. Bessie Smith - Careless Love Blues (1925)
  4. Mattie Delaney - Down The Big Road Blues (1930)
  5. Hattie Hudson - Black Hand Blues (1927)
  6. Memphis Minnie - ‘Frisco Town (1929)
  7. Lottie Kimbrough - Rolling Log Blues (1928)
  8. Kate McTell Feat. Blind Willie McTell - God Don't Like It (1935)
  9. Bertha ‘Chippie' Hill Feat. Louis Armstrong - Trouble In Mind (1926)
  10. Irene Scruggs Feat. Blind Blake - Itching Heel (1930)
  11. Mamie Smith - Crazy Blues (1920)
  12. Bertha Lee Feat. Charley Patton - Mind Reader Blues


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